We spent the morning hiking Diamond Head to survey Oahu, before learning about albatross conservation with Dr. David Hyrenbach and ending the day at Yogurtland
Ken Norris, one of the most celebrated natural historians of the last century, used to start every field trip by exclaiming that he was embarking on the greatest adventure of his life. Our trip to Midway will certainly be just such an adventure, so we started to build the excitement this morning by clambering up Diamond Head to look down on Waikiki.
Diamond Head is a volcanic caldera, formed only 300,000 years ago, testament to the young geological age of the Main Hawaiian Islands.
Standing at the summit, surrounded by throngs of tourists, we marveled at the juxtaposition of urban and natural landscapes. We searched, mostly in vain, for any native species of bird in this beautiful but highly modified habitat. Red-headed cardinals from Brazil. Mynas from India. White-eyes from Japan. And just when I was getting on a professorial roll, waxing poetically about something or other, Meagan spotted a couple of humpback whales and our attention was diverted back to the sea.
After lunch we drove up to the Hawaii Pacific University campus in Kaneohe to spend the afternoon with Dr. David Hyrenbach, an Assistant Professor of Oceanography and expert in albatross conservation. David is an old colleague, good friend and wonderful teacher – every time we visit with him we learn something new. Did you know that drift nets are still used illegally on the high seas in the North Pacific? We didn’t either. David reviewed the primary threat to albatross populations: by-catch in longline fisheries and discussed some of the methods that can prevent the unintended capture of these magnificent birds (we’ll learn more about this topic later in the week).
David also highlighted the problem of plastic ingestion by foraging albatrosses – something we will return to first-hand on Midway. He challenged us to think about ways to determine how much of a threat plastics posed to populations of albatrosses and other long-lived seabirds. Is this a serious conservation problem or merely a sad reflection of the way with which we treat our natural world. Or both?
Finally, David and his graduate student Shannon took us to their laboratory and dissected two wedge-tailed shearwaters, showing us how to take morphometric measurements, assess plumage and look for plastic in their digestive tracts.
And speaking of digestive tracts, no day on Oahu would be complete without a trip to Yogurtland, which we visited after dinner.
Tomorrow we are off to Kaena Point to examine the only albatross colony on Oahu and to search for monk seals and more whales…