Marine Conservation Biology in Hawaii

Midway (Thurs. 1/28/10) – In Search of the Golden Gooney
by -- January 29th, 2010

The persistence of bird enthusiast Josh Stoll leads to a glimpse of the rare short-tailed albatross…

With the strong winds making a return trip to the water to search for spinner dolphins out of the question, we instead gathered to reflect on the conservation issues we had encountered during our trip.  A number of questions emerged.  What should be done (if anything) to recover the Hawaiian monk seal population in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands?  Should money designated for recovering monk seals in the Northwest Islands be used instead for monk seal conservation in the Main Hawaiian Islands?  If so, how should the money be used?  If the Hawaiian green sea turtle were de-listed from Endangered Species Act protection, how should the species be managed?  How would this impact the green sea turtle population outside the Hawaiian Islands?  What level of management is appropriate within the Monument?  On Midway?

Bleaching a monk seal

Bleaching a monk seal

After meeting with Dr. Charles Littnan in Honolulu last week (see Tom’s blog entry), the group consensus was to walk away from the Hawaiian monk seal population in the Northwest Islands and to instead focus on monk seal conservation in the Main Hawaiian Islands.  On Midway we have all accompanied Tracy Wurth, a monk seal biologist with NOAA, on her surveys.  Even with this up close and personal experience (some of us even had the chance to bleach a seal), we still agreed that efforts to preserve the Hawaiian monk seal population should focus more on the Main Hawaiian Islands.  Many of us feel uncomfortable with the degree and cost of human intervention proposed (culling Galapagos sharks, captive care of juvenile monk seals, $5.7 million annual budget) for the Northwestern Islands.  In terms of management here on Midway, the amount of tinkering with the natural system is surprising.  This leads to the question of how much we should be tinkering and how we assess the effects of our tinkering.

Josh and the elusive short-tailed albatross

Josh and the elusive short-tailed albatross

Although our conversation proved to be a lively exchange of ideas, our excitement level spiked when spinner dolphins were spotted swimming into the lagoon.  Amazingly we were able to see from land what the winds had prevented us from seeing from the water.  Empowered by our good fortune, a number of us set off to search one final time for the extremely rare short-tailed albatross (http://www.fws.gov/midway/stal.html).  We had learned on our first day at Midway that although almost all of the approximately 2200 breeding pairs can be found on the Japanese island of Torishima, four juvenile short-tailed albatross have been spotted in recent years at Midway (2 on Sand Island and 2 on Eastern Island).  Spotting a Sand Island juvenile became a mission for Josh.  On what seemed to be almost a dozen occasions, Josh had made the trek to the patch of albatross nests just to the south of the runway where the short-tailed albatross had been seen.  Each time the elusive bird was nowhere to be found.  This morning’s visit, though, would be a different story.  As we approached the site, Josh and I hopped off our bikes and began our search.  Several others followed close behind.  We scanned the landscape of Laysan and black-footed albatross and soon spotted our elusive target crossing the path near Andy and Katelin.  As we celebrated our find, Josh’s face glowed with a sense of reward for all his effort.

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