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In this age of the Internet and other modern forms of communication and learning it is hard to believe that ancient superstitions could exist. However, it is amongst our able seamen and women that one of the best known superstitions is kept alive. Do they really believe the infamous reputation of the albatross? Seemingly so. Such superstitious folklore has haunted modern sailors well into the late 1950's. Do they still believe? It is doubtful that many do, but where there is ignorance or strife, superstitions are rife.

Sadly this large seabird with its incredible endurance of long flights has always symbolized a bad omen amongst sailors. In ancient times the sighting of the bird, an incarnation of a drowned seaman, was a warning of a storm ahead. To remove any albatross feces from the deck was highly unlucky. Apparently they were some form of talisman against the fury of the sea.

Despite the superstition that killing the bird brings permanent doom to the ship and crew, the custom of using albatross feet for tobacco pouches was common even into the late 19th century. For some reason it was thought that these birds would not need to perch as they slept easily in flight. Sadly this is another fallacy.

Even English literature was filled with albatross superstitions and folklore. One fine example is the 'Rime of the Ancient Mariner' written by Samuel Coleridge in Coleridge Cottage, in Nether Stowey, just outside Taunton in England, in about 1796. This epic poem shows how deeply rooted albatross superstitions were.

Coleridge used the shooting of the albatross to show the Christian process of morality, divine judgment, redemption and divine forgiveness. Each of the seven parts clearly showed the superstitions involved.

Since he lived close to the sea it is not surprising to see Coleridge emphasizing the death of the albatross as being a bad omen. The original offense was a violation of the laws of love - 'I shot the Albatross'. The next was the penance, forced isolation and loneliness for breaking the law - 'the Albatross about my neck was hung'. The character was also haunted by a bad dream. Then he was judged by Death himself after days of no water and starvation at sea. Finally Coleridge brought the dramatic to a close with his character performing a blessing over the water snakes to get forgiveness. It was then that the Albatross fell of the character's neck.

These bazaar albatross superstitions have survived even into the 21st century. Swan Vest matches are rejected by Scottish seamen whose fear of swans is not helped by their belief that the swan on the box resembles an albatross. Even in 1958 fear of the albatross and almost any bird by sailors almost brought anarchy to a voyage of the Queen Elizabeth. Problems had been plaguing the ship from the start and the presence of a budgie was immediately blamed. In 1959 the Calpean Star, a cargo ship, was riddled with accidents and the cargo, an albatross, was blamed. Then the bird died and quite a few of the men, fearing the worst, begged to be let go from their jobs.

It is a strange thing that many sailors burden themselves with and have done for centuries. However though the warning of a storm is scientific fact the other things are seemingly nothing more than mumbo jumbo. Like legends and myths such superstitions began out of ignorance and fairy tales to keep the uneducated few in line. Nowadays the chances are it is more of a tradition than a superstition.