Short-tailed Albatrosses hatch chick on Hawaiian Archipelago

January 25, 2011

Endangered Bird Hatches on U.S. Soil for First Time in Recorded History

A pair of endangered Short-tailed Albatrosses has successfully hatched a single chick on an island in the Hawaiian archipelago, marking the first time the species has ever been known to breed outside of Japan, American Bird Conservancy reports.

The hatchling broke through its shell on Eastern Island, one of three small, flat coral islands that comprise Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge over 1,300 miles northwest of Honolulu. A second nest, located on Kure Atoll, a 213-acre coral island located about 55 miles from Midway, produced two eggs which failed to hatch. That nest was being incubated jointly by two females, and so the eggs were likely not fertilized by a male.
Short-tailed Albatross
Short-tailed Albatross © Kirk Zufelt, from the surfbirds galleries.
“Certainly, we had hoped that both nests would be successful and that we would have three new chicks, but the good news is that we have a live chick and two attempts at nesting,” said Dr. Jessica Hardesty Norris, Director of the Seabird Program for American Bird Conservancy, the nation’s leading bird conservation organization. “We would like to congratulate the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) on their success in attracting the birds. They have been putting out decoys and using other methods for years.”
The parents of the Midway chick first paired up on the Refuge during the breeding season four years ago (2007-08). During that season, they were observed spending only a little time together. During the following season, their time together increased. By the third season, they arrived at the Eastern Island breeding colony together and built a nest but did not lay. This breeding season, one of the pair was observed incubating a freshly laid egg on November 16, 2010. The pair has been under close observation ever since. FWS reports that the birds’ leg bands reveal that the male of the pair was hatched on Torishima in 1987 while the female hatched there in 2003.
The Short-tailed Albatross was once the most abundant of the North Pacific albatross species, numbering more than a million birds. It was decimated by feather hunting at the turn of the 20th Century, and by the late 1940s was thought to be extinct. In the early 1950s, ten pairs were discovered breeding on Torishima. The population has now reached 3,000 individuals, with some birds on the Senkaku Islands, but most still on Torishima. Conservationists fear an eruption of the active volcano there could spell disaster.
Outside the breeding season, the Short-tailed Albatross ranges along the coasts of eastern Russia, Korea, China, Taiwan, and Alaska and the Hawaiian Islands, and occasionally off the Pacific Coast of North America.
Besides potential geologic threats, the bird is vulnerable to rats and other predators, but the biggest recent mortality threat is bycatch in longline fisheries. Thousands of miles of fishing lines, carrying hundreds of millions of hooks, are set by longliners throughout the world’s oceans each year. Albatrosses, petrels, shearwaters, and fulmars are killed when they become attracted to the bait attached to the hooks, and either swallow the hooks or become snagged and pulled under the sea to drown.
For many years, ABC has campaigned to end seabird deaths from longlining in U.S. fisheries with significant success. Following ABC’s report: Sudden Death on the High Seas – Longline Fishing, a Global Catastrophe for Seabirds and subsequent advocacy efforts by ABC and others, seabird deaths in Hawai’i and Alaska are down by up to 85%. However, a stark reminder of the threat resurfaced recently when two Short-tailed Albatrosses were killed by longliners in Alaskan waters.
ABC has also been working to encourage the United States and other nations to become signatories to the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP), an international treaty currently protecting all albatross species and seven petrel species in the Southern Hemisphere. The Agreement requires measures to be taken by signatory governments to reduce fisheries bycatch of albatrosses and petrels, to protect breeding colonies, and to control and remove introduced species from breeding islands. ACAP has been signed by 13 countries, including the United Kingdom, France, and Spain, but the United States has so far failed to join them.
“Joining ACAP would show our commitment to protecting declining populations of albatrosses and petrels on a global scale. While the U.S. is already implementing almost all of the provisions of ACAP, it is important that we formally sign the agreement to demonstrate leadership and commitment to the rest of the world,” Hardesty-Norris said.

Posted by Surfbirds at January 25, 2011 6:48 PM


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