Think of how many topics could be filed under that headline…
Sadly, I’m referring to Wisdom, the 60-year-old albatross that may be the world’s oldest wild bird. Even though early reports said she had survived because her nest was not washed over, biologists are still looking for her.
“We are all anxiously awaiting her return,” said Barry Stieglitz, project leader for the Hawaiian and Pacific Islands National Wildlife Refuge Complex.
Many more of her kind have now been reported lost for good. New estimates of tsunami damage to Laysan and black-footed albatross chicks at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge are much higher than initially thought.
Officials now say more than 110,000 albatross chicks – 22 percent of this year’s production – were lost because of the tsunami and two severe winter storms.
Biologists say absent other stressors the albatross population could rebound from the tsunami, but they remain concerned about the compounding stressors of invasive species, climate change, incidental mortality from longline fishing, and other threats.
The Midway Atoll refuge is/was home to two “celebrity” albatross: Wisdom and a single short-tailed albatross chick that was the first of its kind documented to be hatched outside of Japan.
The short-tailed albatross chick was washed about 100 feet from its nest but was later safely returned by refuge biologists.
More from USFWS:
Midway Atoll is comprised of three islands within an outer reef of
approximately 5 miles in diameter. Sand, Eastern, and Spit Islands are 1117, 366, and 15 acres, respectively. Following the earthquake, the three islands were pounded by four successive waves, the tallest of which
was approximately 4.9 feet, over midnight March 10-11, 2011. The tsunami overwashed the fringing reef and Spit Island completely, and covered approximately 60% of Eastern Island and 20% of Sand Island.
Immediately following the tsunami, Refuge staff estimated tens of thousands of albatross chicks had been lost, along with about 1000 adults. After initially concentrating on freeing approximately 300 entrapped or waterlogged birds with assistance from a small group of visitors there participating in a natural history tour, and waiting for danger from the tsunami to pass, biologists turned their attention to surveying the damage. “The results were both startling and disheartening,” Stieglitz said.
For example, in early January, Spit Island held 1498 Laysan and 22 black-footed albatross nests. After losses from the January 14 and February 11 storms and the March 10-11 tsunami, only 4 chicks remain on
“We are very fortunate not to have suffered any loss of human life or other tragedy, as have the people in Japan, and for that we are very grateful,” Stieglitz said. “But this tsunami was indeed a disaster at many
levels, including for wildlife.”