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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, January 26, 2006

Albatross population explosion reported on Midway

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Science Writer

Albatross counters Annie Marshall and Breck Tyler mark some of the more than half a million nests on Midway Atoll's Sand Island. Albatross numbers at Midway are the highest since counting began.

ROY LOWE | U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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Laysan albatross (nesting pairs):

1991 429,308

1996 387,854

2000 284,604

2001 286,662

2003 441,178

2004 408,133

2005 487,527

Black-footed albatross (nesting pairs):

1991 19,757

1996 21,645

2000 18,485

2001 19,012

2003 20,393

2004 21,829

2005 24,085

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The population of nesting albatrosses on Midway Atoll this season is the highest since federal officials began counting them 14 years ago 511,612 nests, which at two birds each, works out to more than a million birds.

Counting unmated birds, the total number of albatrosses at Midway approaches 1.5 million.

The nests at the 1,540-acre Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge were counted by teams of volunteers during three weeks in December 2005 and this month. Laysan and black-footed albatrosses also nest on other islands and atolls of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, but Midway is the world's largest combined nesting site for the two species.

"We are particularly pleased to see an increase in the number of black-footed albatrosses. This marks the fifth year of increased numbers of black-footed albatross nests on Midway after fairly steep declines in the 1990s," said refuge biologist John Klavitter.

Albatrosses arrive late in the year to nest, and most pairs produce a single egg. The first of those eggs started hatching this month, and most eggs should be hatched by the end of the month.

Both Laysan and black-footed albatrosses are listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature as species at risk.

The endangered short-tailed albatross, also known as the golden gooney for the yellow on its head and neck, occasionally occurs in the area, and this year there is one reported at Midway. There are fewer than 1,000 short-tailed albatrosses worldwide, and they primarily nest on Japan's Torishima island.

Reach Jan TenBruggencate at jant@honoluluadvertiser.com.