Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels

A fatty large breast: Catalan author, playwright, poet and journalist Josep Sagarra describes a Laysan Albatross

ACAP Latest News has been publishing an occasional series on albatrosses and petrels in literature, with poems by Roy Campbell, Lewis Carroll, Pablo Neruda and others covered.  This latest offering comes courtesy of Miguel McMinn who lives on Spain’s Balearic Islands and studies ACAP’s most recently listed species, the Critically Endangered Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus (click here).

Josep Maria Sagarra (5 March 1894 - 27 September 1961) was a Catalan playwright, poet and journalist who also published narrative literature and non-fiction books on travel.  He also translated classics of theatre by Shakespeare and Molière into Catalan.  “Sagarra’s brilliant career was cut short by the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War.  The playwright had to flee Spanish Catalonia and did not return until 1940.  His silence as a theatrical author was prolonged, until 1946, due to the prohibition of performances in Catalan.” (click here).

The work of Sagarra is full of mentions about birds and wildlife.  He was an enthusiastic birdwatcher and published several books about birds.  El ocells amics is a non-fiction description of the birds he loved.

La Ruta Blava Viatge a les Mars del Sud (The Blue Route a Voyage to the South Seas) is a narrative description of a long voyage (1936-1938) Sagarra and his wife undertook while in exile from Marseille in France via Martinique, Guadeloupe and the Panama Canal to Tahiti in French Polynesia.  The book is a detailed description of the places he visited, describing traditions encountered and reporting on the influence of European culture.  In his book Sagarra mentions bird species, some with descriptions that are fascinating.  The book was quite popular.

This is the description of the albatross from La Ruta Blava in Catalan:

Grassa de pit, curta de cua, llarga de bec i de coll, vastíssima i imperial d’enverga- dura de les ales, un vuitanta per cent blan- ca i un vint per cent negra, aquesta au, solitària i enorme, era un albatros.

This translates as: A fatty large breast and a short tail, long beak and neck, giant and superb imperial wing span, 80% white and 20% black, this large and lonely bird was an Albatross.

La Ruta Blava was first published in Spanish (titled El Camino Blue) in 1942 and posthumously in Catalan in 1964.  His son has made a TV documentary of the journey (click here).

It seems possible to guess what species of albatross Sagarra wrote about from his route and brief description.  He would not have seen an albatross in the North Atlantic or Caribbean so his sighting must have been in the Pacific.  Given that the Waved Albatross Phoebastria irrorata has a purely southerly at-sea distribution from The Galapagos Islands it seems a Laysan Albatross P. immutabilis was the most likely black and white albatross Sagarra saw between Panama and Tahiti.

Reference:

Ferrer, X.  2005.  Josep Maria de Sagarra i de Castellarnau (1894-1961) I l’ornitologia mediàtica catalane.  l’Abellerol 26: 8-10.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 2 October 2013