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Tsunami kills thousands of albatrosses nesting at Midway Atoll

By Gary T. Kubota

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 03:49 p.m. HST, Mar 15, 2011



 

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 Hawaiian and Pacific Islands National Wildlife Refuge Complex.

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

"They 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 the Spit Island, 60 percent of Eastern Island and 20 percent of  Sand Island, Stieglitz said. The highest wave was 4.9 feet, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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

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

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

Only one pair of short-tailed albatross nest 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 hundreds of 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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