Albatross Migration Attracts Celebrities, Punters
CANBERRA With electronic jockeys on board and carrying the hopes of celebrity owners and punters from around the world, 17 unlikely athletes have taken off in an endurance race deemed by some as the toughest in the world.
The athletes are Shy Albatross birds, and their annual migration up to 9,600 km (6,000 miles) to Africa from their homes on three tiny islands off the Australian island state of Tasmania has become the Big Bird Race.
Punters around the globe can bet on the race which is in its second year and track the progress of the birds carrying "electronic jockeys" -- satellite transmitters -- on the Web site of British bookmaker Ladbrokes, www.ladbrokes.com.
The competitors also have celebrity "owners" including Heather Mills McCartney, wife of Beatle Paul McCartney, yachtswoman Ellen MacArthur, British television host Michael Parkinson and Australian singer Olivia Newton-John.
The Big Bird Race, run by the Tasmanian state government, the Conservation Foundation and Ladbrokes, seeks to help save the mighty sea bird from extinction, with the money raised from the race going to seabird conservation projects.
"Hundreds of thousands of sea birds are dying unnecessarily in the Southern Ocean due to poorly managed longline fishing techniques ... drowning the birds by dragging them for miles underwater," Ladbrokes said on its Web site.
Longline fishing involved boats dragging baited hooks on lines up to 130 km (80 miles) long. Tasmania's environment department said 100,000 albatrosses were killed every year by the practice and 19 species of the bird were now threatened with extinction.
Four days after the official start of the race, less than half the field appear to have started their epic three-month journey.
Pre-race favourite Fleetwood, owned by British radio DJ Johnnie Walker, has taken the lead, followed by Eighteen Stone of Idiot, owned by British comedian Johnny Vegas.
The race will end when the winning bird crosses the line of longitude at 31 degrees east, Durban, South Africa, or on the 4th of August, whichever comes first, in which case the winning bird will be the one which has travelled the furthest distance west.