Tsunami hit biggest colony of endangered albatross, but wildlife largely spared

Rescued Albatross off the Midway Atoll

A big colony of albatrosses off Hawaii seems to be the biggest wildlife loss of the horrific Japanese earthquake and tsunami. The human death and misery toll will be too high, no matter the final count. Wildlife seems to have mostly escaped devastation, at least as far as endangered species are concerned–the rare species in Japan tend to live on the southern islands.

There are a few other freaky tsunami-animal stories out there.

The big hit was over near Hawaii at the Midway Atoll, the biggest nesting colony for the black-footed albatross (Black-footed Albatross).  The islands are low so even though the tsunami was only about five feet tall by the time it got there, it covered all or most of the main islands. Chicks and adults got covered in debris.

Midway Atoll, more than 1,000 miles northwest of Honolulu, has three species of albatross: the black-footed, the Laysan albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis), and the short-tailed albatross (Phoebastria albatrus). The IUCN Red List includes 21 species of albatross, which range from vulnerable to critically endangered. None of them is secure.

Internationally, the black-footed is the worst off of those on Midway. The IUCN says that a 2006-7 count found 64,500 pairs in 14 spots. The biggest is the Midway Atoll with 24,000 and number two was Laysan Island with 21,000 (that’s another Northwest Hawaiin island, closer to the Big Island).

Nearly a million Laysan albatross nest on Midway of about 1.2 million worldwide, including some in Japan. About 1,000 died in the wave, the USFWS said. Worldwide, the species is listed as “near threatened.” If the Midway Atoll were hit worse, this species would be in trouble.

A solitary pair of short-tailed albatrosses nest on Midway. The US Fish and Wildlife Service sai they found one short-tailed baby, put it near the nest and are watching via webcam to see if a parent shows up. Laysan also has a couple critically endangered species, the Laysan duck and the Laysan finch, that only live there.

As far as endangered species, Japan has 3 endangered mammals, 27 birds, 1 snake, 2 salamanders and a mess of endangered fish and insects.

Japanese river otter (Lutra nippon) only lives way up north in Japan, not on the main island of Hokkaido. Worldwide it’s listed as threatened (much less risky) by the IUCN Red List.

Many of the endangered species live far off to the south, on isolated islands. The Tsushima cat (Felis bengalis euptilura) is a rare subspecies that only lives on Tsushima island (which is right off Korea and the subject of an ongoing dispute). The Iriomote cat (Mayailurus iriomotensis) is only the size of a housecat and only lives on Iriomote Island, which is mostly a remote park way over by Taiwan. Less than 100 survive.

A few of Japan’s endangered birds are endemic, that is, it doesn’t live anywhere else. But again, most of them live on remote southern islands. Less than 10,000 Amani Woodcock (Scolopax mira). Only 700 Okinawa Rail (Gallirallus okinawae) are left. A tsunami probably could wipe out a number of species if it hit the islands off southern Japan.

moose Where to SEE MOOSE
pelicanpuffinhummingbird Where to SEE WEIRD BIRDS (All the interesting birds: pelicans, puffins, prairie chickens, vultures, hummingbirds)

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