International Albatross Plan Proposes New Colonies
ANCHORAGE With almost all of the world's remaining short-tailed albatrosses breeding on a steep slope of a Japanese volcanic island that is subject to eruptions, mudslides and erosion, an international team of scientists has a proposal to help the endangered birds -- lure them to a safer island.
The relocation idea, part of a draft recovery plan released Thursday by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, involves the use of decoys and recorded bird calls to make some other site seem as enticing as Torishima Island.
The approximately 2,000 short-tailed albatrosses left in the world spend their winters on the remote Japanese island but spend their summers spread out over Alaska's southern coastline.
It will be a daunting challenge to convince the albatrosses, which mate for life and are fiercely loyal to their places of birth, to change breeding sites, agency officials acknowledge.
"You're not going to get adults to change. If there's a bunch of lava coming down and they're incubating an egg, they're just going to sit right there and let the lava roll right over them," said Greg Balogh, a Fish and Wildlife Service biologist who is coordinating the recovery plan.
Rather, the plan focuses on chicks, which might form attachments to new places if moved at the correct time, he said. A new island has not yet been chosen for the birds.
Already, Japanese authorities have been using decoys and recorded colony sounds to establish a tiny new breeding site on the other side of Torishima Island, where the terrain is less perilous, Balogh said.
The short-tailed albatross was once ubiquitous in the North Pacific. The birds, known for their large size, wide wingspan, white plumage and long flight distances, were once so plentiful that Alaska mariners likened them to snowflakes in the sky.
Hunters harvesting their feathers for bedding and pens nearly wiped them out by the early 20th century. But with hunting ended, Torishima's tumultuous state is the main source of peril to the birds, the Fish and Wildlife Service said.
Other threats include entanglements with fishing gear, oil spills and ingestion of plastic debris, which the birds confuse with food. Commercial fishermen in Alaska have already started using shield-like devices to prevent albatrosses and other sea birds from attaching themselves to fish-laden hooks.
The birds have endangered-species protections in the United States, Japan and Canada and the recovery plan has been noted for its international participation, Balogh said.
"International endangered species recovery is actually pretty darned unusual," Balogh said.