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WISDOM’S WISDOM OR HUMAN WISDOM?

By Nic.Korte

Recent news about the oceans has been uniformly somber. Humans are running an unplanned experiment to see what happens if every sample of beach sand contains plastic microparticles (http://www.adventurescience.org/uploads/7/3/9/8/7398741/andrady_2011_mar_poll.pdf ). Humans are also running an experiment to determine what happens if we spew excess acid in the air (the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide) and change the temperature and pH of the ocean.

Early results from the latter experiment have scientists predicting loss of coral reefs worldwide including Australia’s iconic Great Barrier Reef. Were you still hoping to snorkel or dive there? Your time may have already run out ( https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/15/science/great-barrier-reef-coral-climate-change-dieoff.html?_r=0).

We should all ask ourselves if either of these unplanned experiments demonstrate human wisdom.

Another Wisdom, a Laysan Albatross, has also been in the news. Fortunately, I didn’t wait too long to write about her. Sometimes I run across an item that may be worth using in this blog and I archive it in a file labeled “under construction.” Then I forget the idea until it is no longer usable. I was thinking I should write about problems with the ocean and I remembered I had a now-several year old item on a very old albatross raising a chick. I checked for an update. She’s still alive!

This is a happy story, but also a sad one. Wisdom, when she lands in order to raise a chick, nests at the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in the Pacific Ocean. Fortunately, an NWR has been established or commercial operations of many sorts might have eliminated the nesting site. According to Cornell’s “All About Birds” website (https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Laysan_Albatross/id ), “Laysan Albatrosses are numerous, but as with all albatross species there are serious threats to their population, and this species is on the 2016 State of North America's Birds' Watch List, which includes “bird species that are most at risk of extinction without significant conservation actions to reverse declines and reduce threats.” A 2009 estimate put the global breeding population at about 591,000 pairs, or just under 1.2 million breeding adults, with more than 90% of the total breeding at just two sites: Midway Atoll and Laysan Island.
(https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Laysan_Albatross/id )
Nineteen of the world’s 21 albatross species are threatened with extinction. Albatross populations have crashed because of human activities. Long-line fishing is especially deadly. Albatrosses get hooked and drown when they try to feed on the bait. (If you want to ensure that the fish you eat are caught sustainably check out the website http://seafoodwatch.org )

Scientists estimate that five tons of plastic are also unknowingly fed to albatross chicks each year by their parents. The lack of nutrition and resulting dehydration may lead to a slow death. Finally, invasive species, especially cats and rats, prey on eggs, chicks and nesting adults.

But back to Wisdom, the consummate survivor. There’s another amazing and ironic twist to this story. The reason Wisdom’s age is known, is that she was banded by Chandler Robbins, one of the greatest ornithologists of our time. Robbins was in his 40s when he put the first aluminum band on Wisdom’s ankle in 1956. Still working at age 81, he returned to the atoll in 2001 and, happened to pick up a bird with a tag that could be traced back to his original work nearly 45 years previously.

This year, Wisdom’s egg hatched on February 16. A month later, at the age of 98, Chandler Robbins died.

No one knows how old Wisdom really is. Laysan Albatross lay their first eggs typically at about three years old, but the first encounter didn't have to be her initial nesting.

Scientists thought that, like other birds, albatross females became infertile late in life and carried on without producing chicks. Wisdom, however, has raised chicks five times since 2006, and as many as 35 in her lifetime. Just as astonishing, she has used her 8-foot-long wingspan to fly up to 3 million miles since she was first tagged at Midway. Scientists estimate that she has flown the equivalent of “4 to 6 trips from the Earth to the Moon and back again with plenty of miles to spare.”

Unfortunately, research on albatrosses has many shortcomings. Scientists fear that too large of a percentage of the remaining populations are “too old.” Hopefully, we have enough time to ensure the continued existence of these long-lived inhabitants of distant oceans.

(To see more photos and to keep up with what else is happening on Midway, check out this Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/FriendsofMidwayNWR/ Unfortunately, recent budget cuts have eliminated the possibility of visiting the NWR.)

This post provided by Nic Korte, Grand Valley Audubon Society. Send questions/comments to audubongv@gmail.com. [To learn more and to participate in the activities of Grand Valley Audubon, please see our website at audubongv.org and “like” us on Facebook!]
 

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