Ten Short-tailed Albatross Phoebastria albatrus chicks have been moved by helicopter, from their current stronghold on Torishima Island to the site of a former colony 350 km to the South-east.
The potential for future volcanic events on Torishima is among the most serious threats to this Vulnerable species. Currently, 80-85% of the world population breeds on a highly erodible slope on the outwash plain from the caldera of an active volcano. Monsoons send torrents of ash-laden water down this slope across the colony site. A volcanic eruption could also send lava, ash or poisonous gases through the colony.
The translocation site, Mukojima, part of Japan’s Bonin Islands (and administratively part of the Metropolis of Tokyo), is non-volcanic. Short-tailed Albatross bred here at least until the 1920s.
"Establishing viable breeding colonies in other safer locations is paramount to ensuring the survival and recovery of the Short-tailed Albatross", said Judy Jacobs of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, which has worked on the translocation of the albatross chicks with staff from the Yamashina Institute for Ornithology, and other Japanese and US organisations which together form the Short-tailed Albatross Recovery Team (START).
The ten chicks had reached the "post-guard" state, when parents leave them alone for increasing periods, but were still some three months away from fledging. "The key assumption to this approach is that geographic imprinting on the nesting island occurs after this time; chicks that fledge from a translocation site will return to breed at their fledging site, not their hatching site", Kiyoaki Ozaki explained.
START personnel, who hand-reared Laysan and Black-footed Albatross Phoebastria nigripes chicks in preparation for this project, will spend the next three months feeding the chicks, before they take wing and head out to sea. It will be five years before they reach sexual maturity and are ready to return to breed.
The START team intends to translocate at least ten more chicks annually for the next five years.
Dr Ben Sullivan, BirdLife International global seabird programme coordinator, said: “This welcome initiative to establish new, secure breeding sites will help this rare species. Even though its numbers are increasing even a small amount of mortality due to longlining* could hamper its comeback.”
This is a tremendous international conservation effort, with money coming in from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, North Pacific Research Board, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Japan's Ministry of Environment, The Yamashina Institute for Ornithology, Asahi Shimbun, and Suntory Fund for Birds Conservation.
In addition, Alaska's commercial fishing industry has played a key role in helping to secure Federal funding for this effort.
* Longlining is a method of fishing. Longlining gets its name from the length of the lines that are used. In broad terms a longline consists of a main line to which many branch lines are attached. Each branch line has a baited hook at its end. Longlines are often used to catch bluefin and yellowfin tunas, swordfish and Patagonian toothfish.
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