Short-tailed Albatross
Chick Banded - June 08, 2011

Wildlife biologists at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, part of the co-managed Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, have banded the first confirmed short-tailed albatross chick hatched outside of Japan. The five-month old chick received a permanent metal band on its right leg and a red-and-white one coded “AA00” on its left. When the bird fledges, the bands will help biologists track this extremely rare and endangered seabird to learn where it will one day go to nest. Most albatross return to the island where they were hatched.

“We are very excited that the chick, raised by first-time parents, has made it to where we believe it will fledge, perhaps by mid-June,” said Deputy Refuge Manager John Klavitter.

Albatross fledglings spend their first two to seven years at sea before returning to land to find a mate.

“Although fledging is never a guarantee, this chick is a survivor,” said Klavitter. “Hatched in the middle of a raging storm in January, it was swept 30 meters from its nest during a second storm in February, then survived the March tsunami that caused tens of millions of dollars in damage and the loss of some 100,000 Laysan and black-footed albatross chicks.”

Short-tailed albatross once numbered 5 million, but they were hunted to near-extinction for their feathers and other parts and by 1939, only 10 birds were known to remain. For more than 10 years, biologists from the Midway Refuge and Japan have collaborated to stabilize and increase the population. In 2000-2001, 42 short-tailed albatross decoys (some supplied by Japanese researchers) were placed on the Refuge in the vicinity of a 12-year old male that first arrived at Midway in 1999. Biologists hoped the decoys and a solar-powered, automated short-tailed albatross call would attract more live birds and a mate for the male. Seven years later, a five-year old female arrived and paired with the male.
"This amazing chick is the result," Klavitter said. Both parents were hatched and banded on Torishima Island in Japan.

Excitement at the Refuge and the Monument is only part of the story. In spring 2006, 10 Laysan albatross chicks were flown from Midway to Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge on Kauai to be hand-raised by Japanese researchers developing diet and techniques for hand-raising short-tailed chicks. Then in 2007-2008, Japanese biologists began translocating young chicks from Torishima Island to establish a new colony on Japan's Mukojima Island. The techniques were successful and all the chicks fledged. The effort is now in its fourth year and some of the chicks hatched on Mukojima have returned there to look for mates. This success, along with the spirit and strength of the young chick from Midway, provide hope that the population of short-tailed albatross can continue to recover.

Each year, from January to June, groups of visitors spend a week on Midway Atoll enjoying and learning about its wildlife, cultural and historical significance as both a national wildlife refuge and national memorial. The banding of the chick worked out well for a group of Japanese visitors from the Oceanic Wildlife Society who were invited to observe the event with refuge staff and volunteers. This had special meaning for the group because their chairman, Japanese researcher Dr. Hiroshi Hasagawa, has spent his life working to bring the short-tailed albatross back from the brink of extinction. The Society, which first helped bring the albatross decoys to Midway, has followed the progress of the chick, providing updates in its newsletter and web site.

Sue Schulmeister, Manager of the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, said of the banding: “It readies all of us for what we’ve been hoping for since the chick hatched – a successful first flight away from the Atoll. It would be a fitting reflection of the wonderfully successful collaboration of two countries working to benefit one of our most amazing seabirds, and in the process, each one of us."
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