Anthony Denice, left, and Jen Mannas releasing the bird on March 8, 2023 in Port Angeles, Washington. (Photo courtesy Petty Officer Steve Strohmaier, U.S. Coast Guard Public Affairs)

Anthony Denice, left, and Jen Mannas releasing the bird on March 8, 2023 in Port Angeles, Washington. (Photo courtesy Petty Officer Steve Strohmaier, U.S. Coast Guard Public Affairs)

PAWS gives injured albatross new wind beneath its wings

The seabird arrived in Lynnwood with an injured neck. But despite the odds, the bird kept up a “spicy” attitude.

LYNNWOOD — If you’re craving some heartwarming animal content, social media is chock full of it. Videos of pets and wildlife of all stripes, rescued from the most dire of circumstances, coming to trust the good folks who saved them are an ideal way to restore your faith in humanity.

Staff at Lynnwood’s Progressive Animal Welfare Society, or PAWS, have seen many of these special moments play out in real life as they rehabilitate dogs, cats, even the occasional wild porcupine. But one of their most recent rehab patients was anything but trusting in their care.

PAWS staff, with the help of a U.S. Coast Guard boat, released a Laysan albatross into the open ocean near Port Angeles last week. After several weeks spent recovering in PAWS’ care after being found hurt and far from home, it was a relief to the bird’s caretakers to see it flap its powerful wings and take off. To the bird, it was undoubtedly an equal relief to be away from those nasty, meddling humans.

The Laysan albatross arrived at PAWS’s wildlife center on Feb. 15 with a laceration across its throat, cause unknown, said PAWS naturalist Anthony Denice. The bird had been discovered on the banks of the Columbia River near Longview, a long way from its typical habitat on remote, rocky islands in the Pacific. Jen Mannas, a wildlife rehabilitation biologist with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, transported the patient to Lynnwood to recover under care of PAWS rehab staff.

Laysan albatrosses spend almost their entire lives on the open water, coming onto land only to breed, Mannas said, so it’s exceedingly rare to encounter one so far inland. It’s possible the bird was following in the wake of a fishing vessel, hoping to score some scraps, when it was injured. Needless to say, they aren’t accustomed to humans nor particularly fond of them, as PAWS caretakers quickly learned.

Jen Mannas on the vessel next to the carrier on March 8, 2023 in Port Angeles, Washington. (Photo courtesy Petty Officer Steve Strohmaier, U.S. Coast Guard Public Affairs)

Jen Mannas on the vessel next to the carrier on March 8, 2023 in Port Angeles, Washington. (Photo courtesy Petty Officer Steve Strohmaier, U.S. Coast Guard Public Affairs)

Denice said in the past 20 years, the PAWS wildlife center has only cared for four of the birds. With a 6-foot wingspan and an ominously hooked bill, the seabird was a far cry from the forest critters the center regularly cares for. It presented mysteries as to its identity, too: it was right between the average weights for males and females of its species, and there was no reliable way to determine its age.

“So it’s a testament to our staff’s expertise that they immediately figured out what to do with this huge, strange bird,” Denice said. “But it was clear to us as soon as it arrived that this bird had quite the spicy attitude.”

Once the laceration to its neck was surgically repaired, Denice said staff set about ensuring the albatross recovered in a timely matter without impacting its ability to thrive in the wild. Staff regularly checked the bird’s weight to ensure its appetite was steady and measured the strength of its wing flaps to see how strong it would be for flying.

All the while, the bird maintained a deep and abiding distrust of its caretakers, Denice said. Despite all the buckets of squid PAWS caretakers lovingly provided for their patient, it remained wary of them during its entire stay at the facility.

Veterinarian Bethany Groves, center, performs surgery on a Laysan albatross on Feb. 15, 2023 at the Progressive Animal Welfare Society’s (PAWS) wildlife center in Lynnwood, Washington. (Photo courtesy Anthony Denice)

Veterinarian Bethany Groves, center, performs surgery on a Laysan albatross on Feb. 15, 2023 at the Progressive Animal Welfare Society’s (PAWS) wildlife center in Lynnwood, Washington. (Photo courtesy Anthony Denice)

“That’s exactly what we want in a wild animal, really,” Denice said. “It’s great for them to have this natural mistrust of humans because it indicates they’re maintaining the natural behaviors they’d be exhibiting in the wild. But despite it clearly not feeling the same, it quickly became one of our most beloved patients around here.”

When the bird eventually proved it was up for heading back out on the waves, Denice and Mannas coordinated with the Coast Guard to catch a ride on the appropriately named USCGC Osprey. The cutter would take them and their avian ward 80 miles offshore from Port Angeles, where they could release the albatross onto the open water where it belonged.

“Typically wildlife patients are released back where they were found or nearby, but with seabirds like (the) albatross it’s very important to get them offshore where they can find the appropriate food resources and be able to get back up in the air,” Mannas said. “They rely on updrafts from the wind to take flight from the water and effortlessly soar.”

In the wee hours of the morning on Wednesday, Mannas and Denice met at PAWS to scoop the bird carefully into its specialized transport vessel, a dog crate with a net bottom to protect its feet. They made the drive from Lynnwood to Port Angeles, then sailed several hours to find just the right location on the water where Mannas said they knew the bird would be able to quickly get its bearings and find plenty of food.

The Laysan Albatross at flight after being released on March 8, 2023 in Port Angeles, Washington. (Photo courtesy Petty Officer Steve Strohmaier, U.S. Coast Guard Public Affairs)

The Laysan Albatross at flight after being released on March 8, 2023 in Port Angeles, Washington. (Photo courtesy Petty Officer Steve Strohmaier, U.S. Coast Guard Public Affairs)

Mannas gently pulled the bird out of its carrier, brought it to the stern of the small boat and crouched down, waiting for the exact right wave to scoop it up and carry it away from the ship. When Mannas placed the bird on a swell of sea, it flapped its wings for a few seconds before swooping away effortlessly, not even a solitary glance over its shoulder before disappearing over the horizon.

“It was phenomenal to see how quickly it was able to take off,” Denice said. “We had a good idea it would be able to fly on its own, but that’s not easily measured in captivity. So it was this huge relief to see it catch the wind and just dynamically soar away.”

Mannas said she expects a good prognosis for the albatross, who will likely now continue its normal migration cycle of breeding near Hawaii and feeding as far north as Alaska. While they weren’t able to say for sure how old this bird was, it’s probably got a good long life ahead of it — the oldest known wild bird in the world is a Laysan albatross named Wisdom, who’s been returning to the same nest on Midway Atoll for at least 70 years.

Riley Haun: 425-339-3192; riley.haun@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @RHaunID.

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