satellite view from PMNM
E komo mai; welcome! Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge is surrounded by a lei of foam in the middle of the North Pacific; it's a beautiful, special place.

Not only are there albatross on Midway, but many other interesting kinds of wildlife, both on the land and in the sea. Please enjoy exploring FOAM, an educational blog actively done while on Midway from May through August 2010. Posts are added from off-Midway, as information becomes available. If you're interested in a particular topic, please use the search box or the alphabetical list of "labels" along the left side of the blog page.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Albatross are Gone!...but Where?

[On July 28 corrections were made to this post.]
How many Laysan Albatross (LAAL) do you see in this left-hand picture?  Maybe only 5?  Wow, there used to be LOTS in this many that you really couldn't count them!  
The photo on the right shows the same field 2 months ago.  This snapshot appeared in the FOAM post on May 31, "What's Different?"  See!!  There were LOTS of albatross.  Most of them in the field at that time were Laysan Albatross chicks at the black, downy-feathered stage.  Now that it's the end of July, the chicks have grown up and have flown away from Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, their place of birth, or rather "hatch."  Where have all the albatross gone?--where have they flown to?
On a number of posts, I've said that albatross fly off to the North Pacific.  But the North Pacific Ocean is a big place.  US Fish and Wildlife Service scientists asked the question, "Where exactly, in the North Pacific do Midway Atoll albatross go?"

To answer the question, last year scientists chose 4 Laysan Albatross that had hatched on the Atoll.  On July 13, 2009 each albatross was fitted with a small, solar-powered satellite tag.  When these albatross flew away from Midway, tags transmitted the location of each albatross twice each day.  Scientists were able to map that data, or information.  

Here's a map of the North Pacific Ocean from April 4, 2010.  Hawai`i is the string of islands near the center at the bottom of the map, and Midway Atoll is the 2nd island from the left.  Tiny gray circles show where albatross were on different days, and connecting red lines show the flight path.  (I don't know why over half the map is gray.  Perhaps that part of Earth is having night?)

The map has locations for only 2 of the original 4 Laysan Albatross.  The satellite tags on the other 2 birds must have stopped working.  Perhaps feathers covered up the solar panel and the battery couldn't recharge.  Or perhaps when the LAAL took a break from flying and floated on the ocean, the tag stopped working because of the salty water.

But two LAAL had solar satellite tags that did work!  On the west side of the map you can see one albatross was NW of Midway, near Japan.  The east side of the map shows the other albatross NE of Midway, off the coast of California.

Just imagine: Laysan Albatross from tiny, 2-square-mile Midway Atoll migrate to both sides of the North Pacific Ocean!  Of course tracking just two albatross doesn't give scientists enough information to make final conclusions about where albatross spend time in the North Pacific.  Won't it be interesting to see more data?!  

No comments: