Story of First Short-Tailed Albatross to Hatch Outside of Japan Told Through Pictures

Story of First Short-Tailed Albatross to Hatch Outside of Japan Told Through Pictures

Alisa Opar
Published: 02/02/2011


Male short-tailed albatross and chick. Photo: Pete Leary/USFWS

If everyone else was nesting on Eastern Island, would the short-tailed albatross, too? Yes. Well, eventually. For several years Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge employees have been placing albatross decoys and playing recorded calls to attract the enormous, rare seabirds to nest on Eastern Island—one of three small flat coral islands that make up Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge about 1,200 miles northwest of Honolulu. Their hard work paid off on January 14 when, for the first time in recorded history, a short-tailed albatross hatched outside of Japan. 

The species is in desperate need of new nesting colonies. “Shorties,” as researchers and birders affectionately call them, are the largest and most endangered seabird in the Northern Hemisphere. The majestic birds, whose wingspan measures up to 7.5 feet, may have once been the most abundant albatross in the North Pacific, with its population topping 5 million adults. Their numbers were decimated, due largely to being hunted for their feathers, and by the 20th century only two colonies remained on remote Japanese islands. Disaster struck in 1939 when a volcanic eruption buried their main breeding grounds on Torishima Island under 30 to 90 feet of lava. Only 10 nesting pairs survived. Today, conservation efforts have helped boost the population to about 2,400 birds.

(Click here to read “Raising Shorties,” USFWS endangered species biologist Greg Balogh’s wonderful account of working to establish a nesting colony on a tiny Japanese island.)

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