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.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

What's Happening on Tern Island?

Sooty Tern, ʻEwaʻewa; photo by Paula Hartzell
Previously, in this blog, we've mentioned our neighbor Hawaiian Island to the northwest, Kure Atoll:
  • Dolphin Survey -- May 2010: Pictures and a video clip showing dolphin work done by Cynthia Vanderlip, Matt Saunter and Ilana Nimz a crew of staff and volunteers at Midway prior to their deployment to Kure.
  • Kure Atoll: Part of the ʻOhana -- August 2010: This post begins with an explanation of how the chain of Hawaiian Islands was formed from volcanoes.  Hawaii state Department of Land and Natural Resources staffers, Syd Kawahakui, Jr. and Jason Misaki, are introduced on their way to Kure.
Tern Island within FFS is part of the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge.
Now we "tern" our attention to our neighbor to the southeast, Tern Island Field Station within French Frigate Shoals.

Visit the French Frigate Shoals: Kānemilohaʻi, Tern Island Blog.  Beginning in December, a new crew will be doing oceanic bird work, habitat restoration, marine debris monitoring and other projects over the winter and spring seasons.  During the summer, there will be additional work with Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles and Hawaiian Monk Seals  You can follow all the happenings on the blog.   

Monday, November 28, 2011

Albatross Losses from 2011 Winter Storms and Tsunami

two adult Laysan Albatross,
It's the end of November and the albatross are back; hurray!!!

Worldwide, most of the Black-footed Albatross (BFAL) and Laysan Albatross (LAAL) live in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.  That's 95% of the global population of BFALs and even more, 99%, for the LAALs.  Therefore, it's important to keep track of how well albatross are doing in the NW Hawaiian Islands.

Before we really get into this season, let's take a look back at how well the albatross chicks did last year.  Specifically, let's look at how well they survived the heavy winter storms and the March Japan tsunami; the following numbers are provided by Dr. Lindsay Young, Wildlife Biologist with Pacific Rim Conservation.
Wow!  Looks like Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge was particularly hard hit!  Let's hope the 2012 hatch year is lots better!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Midway: EARs Listen for Whales

Humpback Whale; picture from Wikipedia
There just might be Humpback Whales hanging around Midway during the winter.

We've known for a long time that in late fall Humpbacks travel from the Alaska area to main Hawaiian islands, especially Maui.  During their winter in Hawai`i, these whales do family things: mate, give birth and take care of little whales...and the mature males sing.

Now there's scientific evidence showing that maybe the whole Hawaiian archipelago, from the Big Island of Hawai`i all the way to Kure Atoll, is the site of one, big winter-time Humpback Whale "family reunion."  In 2006 scientists began to see more whales around the small islands, atolls and coral reefs northwest of Honolulu.  Hhhhmmmm, researchers from the Hawai`i Institute of Marine Biology, the Joint Institute for Marine & Atmospheric Research, as well as NOAA's Coral Reef Ecosystem Division decided to find out more.  So, in 2008 they tuned their ears to listen for whale song.

White circles show EAR locations; see reference below for source of map
spectrogram of a Humpback Whale song; see reference below
Make that EARs, or ecological acoustic recorders.  About ten EARs were placed at various places along the island chain.  Whale songs were recorded at all locations!  The picture at the right is called a "spectrogram."  Its horizontal axis represents 30 seconds of time, and the vertical axis is the frequency, or pitch of the whale sound.  I think the spectrogram shows a lot of little blips of sound at different pitches; what do you think?

I'm  pretty sure this whale song from NOAA wasn't recorded at Midway.  The mp3 is about 13 minutes long, but maybe you'd like to listen for awhile--  _____________________________________________________________________________
Lammers, M.O., Fisher-Pool, P.I., Au, W.W.L., Meyer, C.G., Wong, K.B., Brainard, R.E. (2011) Humpback whale Megaptera novaeangliae song reveals wintering activity in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser. 423:261-268.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Midway Tsunami Links: new...and quite old

Aloha!  Rather than write my own update about tsunami-related news, I've decided to link you directly to sources reporting on Midway, as well as other atolls in the NW Hawaiian Islands:
And look at this aerial shot of Midway's main street almost 60 years ago! - --

Midway Island Flooded by 1952 Kamchatka Tsunami Tsunami Generated by Earthquake of Nov. 4, 1952, Kamchatka Peninsula, USSR. Flooded street resulting from tsunami on Midway Island. The tsunami was generated by a magnitude 8.2 earthquake on Kamchatka where it caused severe damage. The tsunami then struck Midway about 3,000 km away, the Hawaiian Islands 5,200 km away, and other areas in the Pacific. Midway reportedly was covered with 1 m of water. Photograph Credit: U.S. Navy.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The resilience of life: post-tsunami reflections

area not impacted by tsunami
photo by Anna Liem
Guest blogger Anna with reflections on the Sendai tsunami's impact on Midway

We're all relieved to hear the USFWS announcement that Wisdom has returned safely to her nest after the tsunami, and was seen feeding her chick. Although the parents of the STAL chick on Eastern have not yet been sighted, USFWS is hopeful that they are still at sea gathering food and, like Wisdom, will eventually return.

Wisdom's return serves as a reminder that, while this year's cohort of chicks was undoubtedly severely impacted by the tsunami and the two heavy winter storms this year, there are still hundreds of thousands of breeding adults who survived and will continue to return to Midway and raise new chicks for years to come.

USFWS volunteer Ipo rescuing a waterlogged bird
photo by Anna Liem
When I look at the raw numbers, it seems strange that we spent so many hours rescuing what seems like a tiny handful of birds. USFWS rescued at least 50 waterlogged adult albatrosses from the lagoon, and USFWS and visitors alike freed over 200 trapped birds; however those numbers appear insignificant compared to the estimated 110,000 chicks and 2,000 adults thought to have been lost due to the tsunami and the severe winter storms of January and February.

But the numbers are only part of the story. Yes, the 300 birds we rescued are a tiny percentage of the birds impacted by the tsunami and the storms, but each of those birds is an individual, just like Wisdom, whom we managed to save. Perhaps we didn't make a huge difference to the albatross population, but we made a huge difference to those individual birds.

All those involved in the rescue efforts walked away with wounds on our hearts from seeing all the birds we couldn't save, but what we will strive to remember instead are the wounds on our arms from the bites of the frightened birds that we did save. I can hardly express the comfort I took and the satisfaction I felt in lifting a newly-freed chick, still covered in wood chips, from the debris and carrying it to safety. As I remember that feeling, it reminds me that, in the face of disaster, both the best and the least we can do is to try to save as many as we can.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Update on Midway Atoll's Tsunami

The tsunami washed over the red-shaded areas; USFWS graphic.
Have you heard the unhappy news?  According to the USFWS's press release on Friday, March 18, "Seabird Losses at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge Greatly Exceed Early Estimates."  (When you get to the link, if it doesn't show this title, you may have to put the title into the website's "Headline" box and do a search.)  Briefly, the article reports this news about albatross:
  •  "...more than 110,000 Laysan and black-footed albatross chicks – about 22 percent of this year’s albatross production..." have been lost this year as a result of winter storms followed by the tsunami
  • "At least 2000 adults were also killed."
  • "Wisdom, the 60-year-old albatross that recently hatched a chick, was initially reported as surviving the event because her nest site was not overwashed, but biologists have not been able to confirm her survival."
  • Only 4 albatross chicks have been found on the Atoll's smallest island, Spit.  Before the winter storms and tsunami, there had been 1520 albatross nests.
  • Although the Short-tailed Albatross has survived all winter storms and the tsunami, the "chick's parents...have not been seen since the tsunami.  Since the chick is incapable of fending for itself, the Service will carefully consider whether hand-rearing this bird is appropriate if it is determined that it is not being fed by its parents."
Read the press release for more information about some of Midway's other birds.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), joins the USFWS and the state of Hawai`i in managing the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, which includes Midway and all of the NW Hawaiian Islands.  It will be NOAA's job in the months ahead to survey the tsunami's effect on the Hawaiian Monk Seal, or `Ilio-holo-i-ka-uaua, and the Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle, or Honu.

There's nothing we can do to prevent tsunamis and other natural disasters.  Even with loss of many individual birds, albatross species have survived these events before, and we expect them to survive this one, too.  

But what we can do is work to prevent human disasters on wildlife.  For example, we can be more careful about keeping plastic out of the ocean, so that albatross don't die from swallowing it by mistake.  Fishing boats can catch fish with gear that doesn't accidentally catch albatross.   

Let's try harder to protect albatross and our Planet Earth!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

How Big were Midway's Tsunami Waves?

from NOAA: Height of the seawater at Midway's Sand Island during the March 10-11, 2011 tsunami.
Y axis is height of the seawater.                                       GMT = Greenwich Mean Time

MLLW = "the average of the lowest tide recorded at a tide station each day during the recording period," according to Wikipedia

WL = water level (I think!) __________________________________________________________________________

Midway Harbor dock; photo by Pete Leary
Around midnight Midway time (1 hour earlier than Hawai`i Standard Time) on March 10-11, 2011 Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge was hit by 4 tsunami waves that had been generated by an earthquake off Sendai, Japan.  US Fish & Wildlife's Susan White, the Pacific Reefs NWRC Project Leader, provided this preliminary data:

11:36 p.m. -- 1.5 feet
11:48 p.m. -- 4.9 feet
12:18 p.m. -- 4.3 feet
12:48 p.m. -- 2.2 feet

One or more of these waves washed completely over the smallest island of the Atoll, called Spit.  Over half of Eastern Island, where the World War II battle took place, was swamped.

All the people live on the Atoll's third island, Sand Island, 20% of which was covered by the tsunami waves.  Everyone was safe; before the first wave was predicted to hit Midway, they all  evacuated to the top floor of Charlie Barracks.  In the days after the tsunami, there does not seem to be much damage to Midway.

Midway's birds are not doing as well.  As Anna noted in her blog entry just below, the good news is that the Short-tailed Albatross chick has survived!  This is the second time it's been washed out of its nest cup!

About the Laysan Albatross, John Klavitter, the Acting Refuge Manager, says the death toll for adults and subadults is probably a "minimum of 1000," and "tens of thousands of Laysan Albatross chicks [were] lost."  Since the Black-footed Albatross generally live closer to the ocean, they may have an even higher death toll.   Pete at Midway's blog has pictures of albatross and other birds tangled in mud and bushes.  I think some of the pictures are sad.  But some other pictures show hard-working staff, volunteers and visitors rescuing birds...and even a lucky honu (green sea turtle)!

additional information: "Hawaii's Laysan and Black-footed Albatrosses have likely suffered heavy losses in last week's tsunami," by Dr. Lindsay Young

Friday, March 11, 2011

Tsunami Hits Midway

Guest blogger Anna here with news about the aftereffects of the tsunami on Midway Atoll.

albatross chicks caught in Naupaka bush; photo by Pete Leary.
The earthquake off the coast of Japan generated a tsunami that hit Midway around 11:40 pm last night. The tsunami was about 5 feet high, and flooded some parts of the island. Sadly, at least some chicks and adult LAALs were killed, and dozens if not hundreds of chicks were washed away from their nests onto roadways and under bushes. Fortunately the nests inland were not affected, and both the adult LAALs and their chicks are going about their business as usual. The chicks are fuzzy balls of fluff right now, and should be ready to fly in a few weeks.
Short-tailed Albatross chick on Midway's Eastern Island; photo by Pete Leary.
Volunteers and visitors to the island spent the afternoon freeing dozens of albatross chicks who had been washed into and caught inside thickets of naupaka. This often required hacking through the bushes with large clippers and small saws, and either crawling through the spaces or climbing on top of the branches to perch suspended over the ground. Visitors also dug out many petrels who had been trapped and buried in their burrows.

While Eastern Island was hard hit, amazingly the short-tailed albatross chick survived!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

An Albatross Named Wisdom

Wisdom with her chick; photo by John Klavitter
Aloha!  I haven't written a post on our FOAM blog in a loooooooong time.  But here I am again!  And it's because I want to tell you something special...very special.  This is a picture of my good friend, Wisdom, who is raising her chick over by Charlie Barracks.  We know it's Wisdom cuz she's da only one with the red bracelet that says Z333.

Go to the titles at the top of this page.  Click on the one called "Midway Map."  See the green box with L10 in it?  That's where I live, near the Fish and Wildlife Office...when I'm not flying over the North Pacific Ocean.  But my friend Wisdom, she lives near L7.  These are the neighborhoods for Laysan Albatross.  The green boxes with letter B are for the Black-footed Albatross.  'Course we LAALs are all over Midway Atoll, but these green boxes are the only places where the scientists come every week to see how our chicks are doing.  It's called measuring our "reproductive success."

Talk about reproductive success!  Wisdom wins da prize!  She's 60 years old!...and she's still laying eggs and hatching out babies!  Check out da picture; cute chick, yeah?  Wisdom is da oldest LAAL on the least from all the Laysan albies that have been banded.  Most little chirpy song birds live only a year or two.  No wonder she's called Wisdom, living for 60 years.  Wisdom's reproductive success has made the news; check out "Oldest known wild bird returns to Midway Atoll to raise chick."  She's famous!

My brother's sister-in-law's uncle told me about an albatross down in New Zealand called Grandma.  She lived to be 60 years old before she disappeared, so we think she's gone from this world.  We never met her, though, cuz we don't fly down there...and Grandma never flew up here. 

Anyway, just thought I'd let you know that we're celebrating here on Midway -- congratulations, Wisdom; maika`i!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Short-tailed Albatross Chick is NOT Blown Away

Short-tailed Albatross chick; photo by John Klavitter
About a month ago, on February 11th, hurricane-strength winds blew over Midway Atoll.  According to Ellen Lance, the Endangered Species Branch Chief of the US Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska, Ironwood trees blew over, and some Albatross (both Laysan & Black-footed) were killed along with about two dozen Bonin petrels.

What happened to the one-and-only STAL chick on Midway?

As Ellen reported, "Staff and volunteers checked the STAL nest the next afternoon and observed the male on the nest....  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."

As of February 23, the chick seemed fine.  At that time it was about about "50% larger than the largest Black-footed albatross chicks."

As soon as I hear more, updated information, I'll write another post.  Let's hope the good news continues!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Short-tailed Albatross Chick Eating Well

  Sometimes albatross will hānai, or adopt, another bird's egg.  Hhhhhmmmm, maybe the Short-tailed Albatross adults on Midway's Eastern Island had been incubating a Laysan Albatross egg instead of one of their own?  Maybe the chick that hatched from the egg on January 14 is really a Laysan Albatross? 

Careful scientists at the US Fish and Wildlife Service wanted to be sure their young bird was really a STAL.  So, the bird scientists (ornithologists) sent pictures of the baby bird to experts at the Yamashina Institute of Ornithology in Japan.  Result -->; the Japanese experts said, "Hai!  Yes!"...the young chick really does look like a Short-tailed Albatross!  In the video below you'll notice the chick has a very chunky bill, which is a STAL characteristic.  

Also, the baby STAL should grow faster than chicks of other kinds of albatross, like Black-footed Albatross.  The video shows the heads of a pair of BFAL adults in the front...but that's a STAL decoy, or model, on the right.

The STAL chick is almost a month old, and it seems to be doing well.  How would you like your dad to feed you this way?!  Yum!--

video by Pete Leary, Midway Atoll NWR Biologist

Monday, January 17, 2011

Happy Hatch Day, Baby Short-tailed Albatross!

photo of male STAL and chick by Pete Leary, 1-17-11
Hau`oli Lā Hānau, baby bird!  See him or her, under the parent?  For the first time, a Short-tailed Albatross (STAL) hatched on Midway Atoll NWR!  The big event happened on Friday, January 14, 2011.

Sing along with the US Marine Corps band as it performs the Happy Birthday song:

Happy hatch day to you!
Happy hatch day to you!
Happy hatch day baby STAL!
Happy hatch day to you!
>>Hana hou (= repeat; sing it again)!

For more information, see: