Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels

The Short-tailed Albatrosses of Midway: America's favourite chick survives a storm

The following dramatic story of survival of the USA's first-ever Short-tailed Albatross Phoebastria albatrus chick comes from John Klavitter, writing from the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, part of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Chain.

"Gale force winds, rain, thunder, and lightning rocked Midway Atoll on Friday night, 11 February, leading to moderate damage and loss of wildlife.  Fortunately, no island residents or visitors were hurt and no major infrastructure was damaged.

For at least an hour, winds were sustained at 60 mph and gusted to 74 mph causing the following impacts: approximately 40 Ironwood trees were toppled; an estimated 100 adult Laysan Albatross and several thousand young chicks and 25 Bonin Petrels were killed by downed trees and flooding; and the Short-tailed Albatross (STAL) nest on Eastern Island was washed over.

Staff and volunteers checked the STAL nest the next afternoon and observed the male on the nest, but storm surge the night before had washed over the nest and the chick was not initially observed.  After several minutes of searching, the chick was found about 25 m away, apparently washed out of the nest cup by the surf.  Fortunately, the chick appeared to be in good health and was returned back to the nest cup by refuge staff.  The adult male initially moved a few feet from the nest when the chick was placed in the cup, but returned to the nest about 45 minutes later.

Although no feedings have been observed, we are confident that both parents continue feeding the chick since it has increased in size since 12 February and remains healthy.  At present the chick is no longer being brooded by the parents and is approximately 50% larger than the largest Black-footed Albatross chicks.  Unfortunately, our remote camera that was monitoring the chick is not operational at this time (we are waiting for a replacement modem).

The size of the STAL chick and its return to its nest cup most likely allowed it to survive the waves that washed over its nest on 11 February.  Unfortunately, nearly all Black-footed and Laysan Albatross chicks (thousands) within 60 m of the ocean on the eastern side of Eastern Island were dead by 14 February from the storm surge or from not being fed by parents (since the chicks were displaced from their nest cups)."

For more pictures of the STAL breeding attempt on Midway click here.

Click here to access earlier ACAP news stories on the STALs of Midway.

Carl Safina in his 2002 book ‘Eye of the Albatross. Visions of Hope and Survival' (pp. 66-68) writes of high seas flooding Tern Island (also a US island within the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument) following heavy rain, resulting in the deaths of many albatross chicks.

Click here to read about Black-browed Albatrosses Thalassarche melanophris succumbing to a major storm in the South Atlantic.

With thanks to Lindsay Young, ACAP North Pacific News Correspondent, for information.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 28 February 2011