Sunday, November 29, 2015         


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Tsunami ravages Midway albatross nests

By Gary T. Kubota


The Sendai tsunami caused significant damage to nesting areas on low-lying Midway Atoll and killed thousands of albatrosses, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

But the birds are resilient, and their numbers are expected to return within the next decade, said Barry Stieglitz, project leader for the Hawaiian and Pacific Islands National Wildlife Refuge Complex.

Stieglitz said the tsunami probably killed tens of thousands of albatross chicks and their parents, who refused to abandon them.

"They're tied to their young, so some of them didn't leave in time," he said. "They stayed with their children."

The tsunami that struck close to midnight Friday swept completely over Spit Island, 60 percent of Eastern Island and 20 percent of Sand Island, Stieglitz said. The highest wave was 4.9 feet, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said.

Midway Atoll, 1,300 miles west-northwest of Honolulu, is home to three species of albatross: the Laysan albatross, the black-footed albatross and the endangered short-tailed albatross.

More than 450,000 breeding pairs of Laysan albatross were counted at three islands in 2008.

Some 25,300 black-footed albatrosses lived on the three islands.

Only one pair of short-tailed albatrosses nests at Midway.

Wildlife officials found a short-tailed chick after the tsunami and returned it to a nesting area but have been unable to find the parents, Stieglitz said.

"The child can't survive without at least one parent," he said.

A remote-control camera has been placed near the chick to monitor it.

The short-tailed albatross usually breed on Japan's Torishima island and sometimes several hundred miles southwest on Senkaku island.

The first short-tailed albatross was observed on Midway between 1936 and 1941.

The short-tailed population dropped due to feather hunters in the late 19th century, and a lava flow in 1939 destroyed breeding grounds on Torishima, leaving only 2,200 birds today.

The nesting period starts usually in October-December.

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