Wednesday 23 March 2011

Overhead the albatross hangs motionless upon the air

An aged Laysan albatross called Wisdom - one of the survivors of the March 11 tsunami, which killed at least 2,000 of its kind along with around 110,000 chicks after the earthquake off Japan - has made it back to a remote atoll north west of the Hawaiian islands. Apart from surviving the awful decimation caused by the tsunami, it is more than remarkable that this iconic bird of the ocean is at least 60 years old. She is, in fact, the oldest known wild bird in the US. She was first banded in 1956, the year I was born, as she incubated an egg, and it was thought she was at least 5 years old then. It is awe-inspiring that Wisdom is still successfully producing chicks at such a grand old age, and has survived the rigours of Mother Nature - and the 'progress' of man - for at least six decades.

During the early 1900s, the Laysan albatross was hunted mercilessly by feather hunters who killed hundreds of thousands of them, succeeding in wiping them out from Wake Island and Johnston Atoll in the north Pacific. The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are now protected, but the birds are still vulnerable to longline fisheries and the ingestion of floating plastics. On the newer colonised islands, they are also vulnerable to feral cats.

But for now at least, officials at the Hawaiian and Pacific Islands National Wildlife Refuge Complex are greatly thrilled at the return of Wisdom and that she survived the March 11 tsunami. Let us hope that she continues to ride the thermals for many more years to come.

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