Albatross’ 80th Anniversary Talk

Why do the albatross nest at Taiaroa Head? Learn about a wildlife hero and how he helped the first Albatross chick fledge in 1938 leading to the establishment of the world’s only mainland Royal Albatross breeding colony right here in Dunedin.
Lance Richdale was the seabird genius who inspired generations of nature lovers. Meet Neville Peat, celebrated author of ‘Seabird Genius’ and hear the incredible story of Lance’s life and work.

Free talk to celebrate 80 years since the first Albatross fledging on September 22 1938.
4pm, Royal Albatross Centre.


Albatross, penguin and petrel researcher, a ‘Seabird Genius’.

No sea-bird population in the world has had so much hands-on management and monitoring for so long – 80 years – and Dr Lance Richdale was the initiator of it.

Dr Richdale threw himself into the study and protection of the albatrosses and penguins when no one seemed bothered by the ongoing vandalism and disruption at breeding time. As the royal albatross colony’s ‘founding father’, the Richdale name has pride of place in its history and has been perpetuated in the name of observatories since the 1980s.

The limited range of research tools at his disposal did not stop him breaking new ground.  If there is a lesson for future bird researchers from his work, it is that technology is important – his innovative banding and marking systems proved that – along with a novel approach to analysis, arduous fieldwork, intense observation and gritty determination.  At the time he began his research at Taiaroa Head in the 1930s and 1940, no one in New Zealand, and few researchers overseas, had undertaken studies of such length and complexity; his effort remains an inspiration for 21st century researchers.

His intensive field research and rigorous analysis of the data produced papers, monographs, newspaper articles and books that surprised and amazed ornithologists around the world. Through his penguin, albatross and petrel studies he discovered new ways of seeing seabirds.

Of greatest importance to following generations of researchers was his advice – when delivered in person it was more like a command than a caution – to challenge and test every conclusion not supported by actual observation and recording done in the field

Essayist F. L. Combs, writing learnedly in the New Zealand Listener in 1943, cast the relatively new sea-bird researcher, L. E. Richdale, in the mould of genius, assuming genius to be ‘an infinite capacity for taking pains’ combined with ‘an absorbed curiosity’

Dr Richdale raised his voice on these issues at a time when wildlife conservation was not a popular cause. His series of Wild Life booklets, all 12 of them, had something to say about the threats to native birds and the dire need to ‘preserve the remnants.

Lance’s role as an educator – his paid employment was as an itinerant science adviser to schools – stands proudly alongside his sea-bird achievements. Scores of teachers and tens of thousands of children welcomed him into their schools, many of whom took an active interest subsequently in nature conservation.

The development of Dunedin’s nature tourism industry is also a legacy of the early efforts by Lance Richdale to protect the rare and special marine life of the Otago Peninsula. The royal albatross and yellow-eyed penguin are iconic in the city’s life. In spring, church bells chime across the city, announcing the return of the breeding albatrosses, and the yellow-eyed penguin has become a national symbol of vulnerable wildlife.