They don't eat albatrosses do they? An excursion into the culinary literature

In the past, from their first discovery, albatrosses have fallen victim to the stew pot or roasting fire, being generally considered good eating.  Nowadays, however, it seems that the human consumption of albatrosses has died out as a habit - and no bad thing many of us will say.

Among the last to utilize albatrosses as a regular food source seems to have been by the resident community of Tristan da Cunha in the South Atlantic.  However, full legal protection to all breeding albatrosses (and their eggs and chicks) now exists within the whole island group.  Occasional rumours surface of Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatrosses Thalassarche chlororhynchos still being take illegally on the main island of Tristan or on Nightingale but I know of no confirmed cases.  Indeed recipes for cooking albatrosses are not to be found in the island's recently published recipe book (Tourist Office undated).  Albatrosses and other seabirds were also still being killed, at least occasionally, for the cooking pot by the smaller fishing vessels operating out of Cape Town, South Africa into the late 1970s (Avery 1979), but this exploitation also seems to have come to an end as the fisheries became more mechanised.

I have gathered together below just a few of the accounts of how the early explorers, sealers and sailors cooked their albatrosses and how they found them to their liking; not of course to encourage any further consumption, but as a record of humanity's interactions with these splendid birds.


"The way of dressing them is thus.  Skin them over night and soak their carcasses in salt water till morn then parboil them and throw away the water, then stew them well with very little water and when sufficiently tender serve them up with a savory sauce."  "...[they] were so good that every body commended and eat heartily of them tho there was fresh pork on the table".
Southern Ocean, February 1770, Joseph Banks travelling with James Cook (Tickell 2000).

"The people (Sailors) have made a good dinner of the Albatrosses cooked in the form of a sea-pie.  They say that by soaking them in water over night they get rid of any fishy taste they may be supposed to have."
Southern Ocean, H. Weeks' journal, February 1841 (Medway 1998).

"... albatross ... were to be found sitting about on the most level and grassy places; they would seldom rise, or try to get away; therefore to knock down as many as were wanted, rip the skin open, cut off the breast and thighs and sling them on my club, and return to the cave, would generally occupy a couple of hours.  ...but of the young birds the whole carcass was taken."
Marion Island, 1812/20 ("Webfoot"= William Dane Phelps 1871).

"I take ashore albatross-egg sandwiches, cook a duck breast on my little stove and make tea.  The egg of a wandering albatross is good food.  I can compare it with nothing better than beaver tail soup, and this entirely because of its effect on the appetite rather than any similarity in taste.  You boil your egg which weighs a pound, until the contents are of just the right consistency.  You nip off the smaller end, sprinkle with salt and dig in.  It is delicious!
South Georgia* 1912/13 (Murphy 1948).

"Four young albatrosses went in the pot, with a Bovril ration for thickening.  The flesh was white and succulent, and the bones not fully formed, almost melted in our mouths.  That was a memorable meal.
South Georgia*, May 1917 (Shackleton 1919)

"Skinned and cut up into pieces, with half a pound of hoosh and a little water, we simmered it [a Wandering Albatross Diomedea exulans chick] over the tiny driftwood fire ...  When the dish was cooked we revelled in unwonted gluttony - the delicious, white, well-flavoured and rich flesh was rendered even more piquant by the addition of the hoosh...  We even ate the bones, as they were soft and juicy".
South Georgia*, May 1917 (Worsley 1940)

"The cook did well with the albatross; he jointed and stewed them, not a watery stew with no flavour, but a deep bed of Argentine beans swimming in fats and onions, with braised albatross chunks nestling as comfortably on it as they had in their tussac cradle a few days before.  Delicious."
South Georgia*, 1920s (Matthews 1951).

"As I ate my supper my first attitude of suspicion changed to one of guarded approval.  Contrary to expectation, they [Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross chicks] have no fishy taste but their fat is very oily.  They had been fried in this and I held the bones in my fingers until it had all dripped away before I gnawed them in the accustomed manner."
Tristan da Cunha, 1937/38 (Crawford 1941).

"Hang up a malmok [Black-browed Albatross T. melanophris] for three days; then put it in vinegar over-night.  The following day boil it up and throw away the water.  Brown some onions and braise the cut-up meat in the usual way.  Add some chillies and put some curry with it.  Don't believe the people who say that a malmok tastes fishy.  These people don't know how to cook.  It is not right to blame the bird if you don't know how to cook.  We old fisher-man know a lot about good cooking; oh yes, we do."
Recipe from an old fisherman on Kalk Bay Pier, South Africa, prior to 1949 (Gerber 1957)

"Having no turkey, roast albatross chick was the main course, stuffed, of course, and accompanied with the usual vegetables.  The young Gony [Tristan Albatross D. dabbenena] turned out to be very good indeed, and the reason why there are none of this species left on Tristan was immediately apparent."
Gough Island, December 1955 (Holdgate 1958).

Adults at sea, chicks on land:  Wandering Albatrosses made a welcome meal
Photograph taken on Marion Island by John Cooper


Avery, Graham 1979.  Results of beach patrols conducted in 1978.  Cormorant 6: 4-12.
Crawford, Allan B. 1941.  I Went to Tristan.  London: Hodder & Stoughton.  268 pp.
Gerber, Hilda 1957.  Traditional Cookery of the Cape Malays.  Food Customs and 200 Old Cape Recipes.  Cape Town: A.A. Balkema.  127 pp.
Holdgate, Martin 1958.  Mountains in the Sea. The Story of the Gough Island Expedition.  London: MacMillan.  222 pp.
Matthews, L. Harrison 1951.  Wandering Albatross.  Adventures among the Albatrosses and Petrels in the Southern Ocean.  London: MacGibbon & Kee with Reinhardt & Evans.  134 pp.
Medway, David G. 1998.  Human-induced mortality of Southern Ocean albatrosses at sea in the 19th century: a brief historical review.  In: Robertson, G. & Gales, R. (Eds).  Albatross Biology and Conservation.  Chipping Norton: Surrey Beatty & Sons.  pp. 189-198.
Murphy, Robert Cushman 1948.  Logbook for Grace.  Whaling Brig Daisy, 1912-1913. London: Robert Hale.  290 pp.
Shackleton, Sir Ernest 1919.  South.  The Story of Shackleton's 1914-1917 Expedition.  London: William Heinemann.  205 pp.
Tickell, W.Lance N. 2000.  Albatrosses.  Mountfield: Pica Press.  448 pp.
[Tourist Office] undated.  Recipes from Tristan da Cunha.  Tristan da Cunha: Tourist Office.  29 pp.
"Webfoot" 1871.  Fore and Aft; or, Leaves from the Life of an Old Sailor.  Boston: Nichols & Hall.  359 pp.
Worsley, Frank A. (1940).  Shackleton's Boat Journey.  London: Hodder & Stoughton.  191 pp.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 17 November 2011

*A dispute exists between the Governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland concerning sovereignty over the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas), South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (Islas Georgias del Sur y Islas Sandwich del Sur) and the surrounding maritime areas.

The Agreement on the
Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels

ACAP is a multilateral agreement which seeks to conserve listed albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters by coordinating international activity to mitigate known threats to their populations.

About ACAP

ACAP Secretariat

119 Macquarie St
Hobart TAS 7000

Tel: +61 3 6165 6674