Waterlogged by your own egg! A Laysan Albatross survives an attack by a feral pig to nearly drown at sea

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Greg Yost holds the waterlogged Laysan Albatross rescued at sea; photograph by Howie Grene

On 26 December last year a Laysan Albatross or Mōlī Phoebastria immutabilis was found waterlogged and struggling at sea about 2.5 km offshore from the Kīlauea Point National Wildlife Refuge (KPNWR) on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.

The following edited account is taken from the Save our Shearwaters website:

“It was probably only a matter of minutes or hours before the albatross drowned,” said Howie Grene, one of the bird’s rescuers, “the wings were all out as he tried to keep himself afloat, his head was just barely above water and his body was submerged.”  The rescuers were able to safely capture the albatross and bring it (gender unconfirmed, suspected female) to Kaiakea Fire Station, where Save Our Shearwaters (SOS) staff collected the bird.  Its numbered leg band allowed it to be identified as an active nester, last seen incubating on 22 December within the wildlife refuge.

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ANP081 sinks in SOS's conditioning pool due to its contaminated plumage; photograph by Amanda Parrish

Upon arrival at SOS, the albatross was assigned the patient ID number ANP081 and received a full examination.  It was noted that its plumage was covered in a light-yellow contaminant.  It was placed in SOS’s conditioning pool, where water quickly penetrated through the bird’s feathers all the way to the skin.

“It is vital that pelagic birds such as mōlī are completely waterproof prior to release,” said Jacqueline Nelson, Wildlife Rehabilitation Manager for SOS, “otherwise, water can reach their skin causing them to become hypothermic or have difficulty taking flight off the water and foraging for food.”

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SOS staff wash ANP081 to remove contaminants from its feathers; photograph by Keane Sammon

As this patient was an active nester, time was of the essence to get it back into the wild as quickly as possible.  Trained SOS staff completed an extensive wash procedure to remove any contaminants from ANP081’s plumage.  The bird spent two additional days at the rehabilitation facility, where staff monitored buoyancy and checked to ensure its feathers remained dry while pooling.  After passing its final waterproofing and health evaluations, the bird was released successfully at Anahola Beach on 2 January.

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ANP081 on Anahola Beach prior to taking off toward the sea; photograph by
Jacqueline Nelson

On 7 January, KPNWR reported on their Facebook page that 64 mōlī eggs were crushed or eaten by pigs on Nihokū beginning on 22 December (click here).  KPNWR confirmed that ANP081’s nest was one of the ones that had been depredated by a pig.  This depredation event is suspected to be the cause of ANP081’s waterproofing issues because the yolk from its destroyed egg would explain the light-yellow substance found on its feathers.

US Fish and Wildlife Service staff, in coordination with Pacific Rim Conservation, have been working to finish expanding their predator-resistant fencing to encompass the area where these mōlī nests are located.  The fence is scheduled to be completed in just a few months (click here).

Heather Abbey-Tonneson, Refuge Complex Manager for KPNWR stated, "In addition to SOS, our partnerships with Pacific Rim Conservation, Pono Pacific, State of Hawai`i Department of Land and Natural Resources, Kauaʻi Endangered Seabird Recovery Project, and American Bird Conservation [sic] on our nearly 2-mile [c. 3 km] predator-resistant perimeter fence will protect mōlī and other species on 168 acres. [68 ha].”

John Cooper, Emeritus ACAP Information Officer, 03 February 2023

The Agreement on the
Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels

ACAP is a multilateral agreement which seeks to conserve listed albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters by coordinating international activity to mitigate known threats to their populations.

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