Oceanic birds are those that roam the seas endlessly only returning to land to breed. They make up the most important group of birds in New Zealand. They represent over 20% of the birds that breed here and their total population probably exceeds all the rest of New Zealand’s birds put together.
Included in the tube-nosed or petrel group of oceanic birds, the Toroa, found nowhere else in the world, is a giant with its narrow wings spanning more than eleven feet. It is the world’s largest seabird.
For hundreds of years, superstition, mystery and imagination have surrounded albatrosses. This is perhaps not surprising as to actually observe this giant, enigmatic bird gliding effortlessly and solitary over waves in mid-ocean was something few people ever experienced. The Toroa spends 85% of its life gliding the ocean covering an estimated 190,000 kilometers a year.
Only every two years does the Toroa take a break from the never-ending search for food on the sea to return to land to breed on remote islands within New Zealand waters. The breeding cycle is a long one, taking eleven months. Pairs mate for life and raise one chick every two years.
The bird has a diet of squid and fish which are used by commercial fishing boats to catch tuna and are vulnerable to swallowing the baited hooks then drowning. Toroa only breed after ten years and with only one egg every two years, the loss of an adult means the chick will not survive. It is estimated that 25,000 seabirds are killed on fishing long-lines each year. The Toroa is protected and special breeding programs are now helping to maintain their populations.
The old time Māori were intrigued by this fascinating bird. The Toroa was highly valued for its white feathers used to adorn the ears and heads of high-ranking people and also as decoration for waka (war canoes) thus imparting the power and grace of these great birds to the vessel. Bones were also employed in the making of flutes, pendants and instruments for moko (tattooing).
The habitat of the Toroa was generally inaccessible to the Māori and the catching of one by trolling with lures was considered a very fortunate occurrence and highly dangerous.
Te Rarawa, Ngāti Paoa, Te Ātiawa
Rex Homan was born 1940 in Thames, New Zealand of Māori, Irish and Scottish ancestry. He lived in Auckland in his early years before moving to the Bay of Plenty. Rex has earned international recognition as a wood sculptor in the 1960s and 1970s and began working in bronze in the 1980s. His current work is influenced by the culture of the Pacific and displays uniqueness in its diversity of form and dramatic flow of lines. Rex has exhibited in solo, group and jury shows. He has won several national awards for “National Wood Skills” and is represented in corporate and private collections worldwide.
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