A good START: translocating the Short-tailed Albatross UPDATED

There is certainly no shortage of bad news in the world of albatross conservation.  But for a spot of sunny news, look no further than the increasingly common sightings of golden-crowned Short-tailed Albatrosses Phoebastria albatrus in the North Pacific.  Sure, the species had its brush with extinction back in the late 1930s, when no breeding birds were known to exist for several years.  And sure, the world population is still somewhere south of 3000 individuals.  But it is coming back strong, at least for an albatross.


Since the 1970s, Short-tailed Albatrosses have been increasing at a fairly steady 7% a year, thanks in large part to habitat conservation efforts at its main breeding colony on the Japanese island of Torishima.  Unfortunately, this robust colony sits in the shadow of a very active volcano, and is perched precariously on a steep slope that is subjected to torrents of monsoon-generated flash floods.  The flood waters wash volcanic ash right through the middle of the colony, sometimes taking out eggs and chicks in the process.  But efforts are underway to fix this problem.


The Short-tailed Albatross Recovery Team (START) has identified a few high-priority recovery tasks, such as attracting breeding birds to a safer site on Torishima and establishing a new colony of birds on a non-volcanic island through translocation and hand-rearing of chicks.  The recovery team was formed under the auspices of the U.S. Endangered Species Act by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and is comprised of North Pacific albatross experts from the Canada, Japan, New Zealand and the U.S.A.  START’s mission is to prioritize and guide recovery efforts for this Endangered species.  Forming new colony sites is the team’s top priority.




Translocated Short-tailed Albatross chicks are introduced to their new home on Mukojima


With financial support from Japan’s Ministry of Environment and several private corporations, Japan’s Yamashina Institute has already established a new colony on a gently sloping and well-vegetated portion of Torishima.  Decoys and a continuously-playing recording of colony sounds initially attracted birds to the area, with a small number of birds breeding there for about a decade.  But in the past few years, the colony size has grown dramatically, with 50 breeding pairs fledging 37 chicks in 2009.  The colony is now considered large enough that the decoys and sound system have been removed from the area and redeployed.


The new mission of the decoys is to assist in generating a new colony on non-volcanic Mukojima Island, the receiving site for translocated Short-tailed Albatross chicks.  In 2008, 10 nine-week-old chicks were moved by helicopter from Torishima to formerly-occupied Mukojima, where they were hand-reared by crews from the Yamashina Institute, the USFWS, and the New Zealand Department of Conservation.  All the chicks fledged.  In 2009, the operation was repeated with 15 chicks, and they have all fledged as well.  This effort, jointly funded by the Japanese Government, the USFWS, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the North Pacific Research Board, will continue through 2012.  At that time, after 70 or so chicks have been moved, the first translocated chicks should be returning to their new home on Mukojima to attempt breeding for the first time.  Already, young birds are visiting the site to practice their courtship dancing skills, so the future looks bright for the Land of the Rising Sun’s newest albatross colony.


See also:  http://www.fakr.noaa.gov/protectedresources/seabirds/usfws_stal_translocation_%20factsheet.pdf


News from Greg Balogh, START Chair, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Alaska.  08 June 2009, updated 14 June 2009

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