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People likely decimated protected albatross colony


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POSTED: Tuesday, March 31, 2009

State wildlife experts believe that humans wiped out a Waianae Mountains colony of Laysan albatross, one of the few native seabird species still found in the islands.

Officials are puzzled about why anyone would destroy the entire population of up to 50 birds, which are protected by federal and state law.

On Sunday a search-and-rescue dog and its handler joined a Department of Land and Natural Resources wildlife biologist and an enforcement officer to seek any trace of the birds at Kuaokala, a remote site in the northern Waianae range.

“;Wildlife biologist Lindsay Young is quite confident that if there had been something to find, the dog would have found it,”; DLNR spokeswoman Deborah Ward said yesterday.

“;The DLNR law enforcement officer and dog handler believe humans were responsible for this,”; Ward said. “;It's puzzling and disturbing.”;

The nesting site is fenced to keep out predators. When pigs or dogs are the predators, they typically leave scattered remains of their prey, clues that allow biologists to identify the culprits, according to a release.

The Kuaokala area is open to hunting and hiking.

Searchers found no shotgun shells or other trash near the site, which does not rule out humans, who may have removed the evidence of their presence. “;The searchers commented on how striking it was to find it so utterly clean,”; Ward said.

The dog, trained to search for cadavers, was given a crash course in albatross remains, Ward said.

“;The dog located an old nest easily and found an old carcass that had been buried a year ago,”; she added.

There were 20 adults, 15 chicks and six nests with eggs when biologists visited the site in mid-February. They discovered the empty nests last Tuesday. Albatross do not breed until they are 8 years old and will raise only one chick a year, so it could take decades for the colony to be restored.

The seabirds, also known as gooney birds, are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and killing or possessing them is illegal.

Federal and state law enforcement officials are investigating. They ask that anyone with information about suspicious activities at Kuaokala since Feb. 13, or about the missing albatrosses, call the state Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement, 643-3567, or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Law Enforcement Division.