POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Dec 13, 2010
The braying call of the Newell's shearwaters flying toward their nesting sites mauka always thrills me.
Like the first kolea to return from its nesting time in Alaska, I always note the first shearwaters call in spring. Their call in the early mornings as they headed seaward to find fish for their young tells me that dawn is coming. Like the stars, they are a part of the changing of the seasons in Hawaii. I think of them valiantly seeking food at sea to bring back to their young in their burrows.
But this year I got scared. Instead of dozens of calls every night, I am hearing only one or two -- four at the most -- flying over my home in Wainiha.
We don't have bright lights or many power lines in our valley that usually account for downed shearwaters.
Is it the lack of fish at sea? I have been told that they will not return to land to breed if there's not enough food in the sea to raise their single chick.
Are pigs and rats and feral cats wiping out their nests? The adults leave their nestlings for the last 10 days before they fledge, which makes them extremely vulnerable to predators.
So it was with interest that I read an Associated Press article a couple of months back that brought light to the plight of the shearwaters. However, the sentiments expressed by some of those attending a football game baffled and saddened me. How can someone say that Kauai County chose the bird over the keiki? How can the inconvenience and discomfort of having to hold football games during the day outweigh saving the lives of endangered seabirds? And the comment that there isn't much to offer kids on Kauai except Friday night football, "and then they took that away from us," makes me shake my head. What about surfing, hunting, fishing, boogie-boarding?
What has happened to sense of reverence for the land, malama 'aina? How have we gone from a community that for decades has taken pride in caring for downed shearwaters, to people wearing T-shirts that say "Buck the firds"? What kind of world are we moving toward where we can't be inconvenienced -- for one season, until the county alters the lights -- for the sake of another species' survival?
These birds need our help, not our hate. They are the proverbial canary in the coal mine; their fate presages our own. Yet most Kauai residents seem oblivious to how precious our native plants and animals are, that we live in what is often referred to as the extinction capital of America because so many of our native species are in peril.
I wonder if it is a matter of education.
Konrad Lorenz, a Nobel laureate who studied animal behavior, wrote: "... there are fewer and fewer adults devoted to nature. Fewer and fewer hours of the curriculum are directed to biology. Often biology has become the least important course in high school. People simply don't believe that they will be in dire straits in a hundred years because of their lack of understanding in this area.
The situation is already very serious. Most little boys easily recognize a make of car -- no matter how similar cars are, they can distinguish them perfectly -- but don't know what kind of bird is flying past."
Kathy Valier, of Wainiha, Kauai, is a volunteer with Save Our Shearwaters. She has been leading Sierra Club hikes for more than 20 years and is the author of two books, both published by University of Hawaii Press: "Ferns of Hawaii" and "On the Na Pali Coast."