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110,000 seabirds devastated by tsunami waves

By now you’ve already heard about the sheer destruction in Japan after the massive earthquake and tsunami. While most people knew the devastation to animals, including dogs, would be enormous, no one fully anticipated the impact tsunami waves would have on seabird refuges northwest of Hawaii.

The Midway Atoll is currently home to about 70 percent of the world’s population of Laysan Albatross and almost 40 percent of the world’s population of black-footed albatross. Unfortunately, after Japan’s earthquake, four huge tsunami waves struck the island over several hours on March 10th.

Officials are now estimating that 110,000 birds at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge died as a result of the waves and two recent thunderstorms. That’s 22 percent of this year’s albatross production.

According to officials, tens of thousands of chicks were washed away and a minimum of 1,000 adult albatrosses were lost. Thousands of Bonin Petrels were buried alive, while others, like the one pictured above, were rescued after being stuck in the sand.

Also, Midway Atoll is home to a Short-tailed Albatross (pictured left). The Short-tailed Albatross was recently brought to the brink of extinction before being elevated to vulnerable on the threatened species list. In 1954, there were only 25 of these birds, and now there are a little more than 2,000.

Amazingly, on January 14 a chick hatched on the island, but the nest was washed over by one of the tsunami waves that struck the island. Fortunately, the chick was found unharmed a short ways away from the nest and was put back.

Another victim of the tsunami was the albatross named Wisdom. About two weeks ago, the 60-year-old albatross, many believe may have been the oldest wild bird in the world, hatched her 35th chick. The amazingly spry and healthy bird recently returned to Midway Atoll with her chick, but since the tsunami waves struck, there has been no sign of Wisdom or her chick.

As this event has illustrated, natural disasters have adverse ramifications on humans and wildlife. Hopefully, those affected by the earthquake and tsunami will bounce back quickly.

Timothy Martinez Jr. is a writer and freelance journalist. His work has been published in The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Remapping Debate in New York City and other publications. He’s been a bird lover since he was young and currently lives in New Orleans, L.A.

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