Rare albatross dies despite rehab efforts

LYNNWOOD — A short-tailed albatross that died while undergoing rehabilitation here is being used to further research on the rare species.

Three fishermen rescued the large seabird last month in Neah Bay on the northwest coast of Washington.

The young female albatross had flown more than 5,500 miles across the North Pacific Ocean from Torishima, Japan, a small volcanic island south of Tokyo. It was banded by researchers there as a chick in March.

“To our knowledge, this is the first short-tailed albatross that has been rescued and taken to rehabilitation on the West Coast,” said Brent Lawrence, a spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service based in Portland, Oregon. “So around here, it’s a new experience and an opportunity for research.”

Bud Sharp, of Silvana, was at sea fishing for salmon with his son, Cliff Sharp, of Sprague, and brother Dave Sharp, of Camano Island, when they spotted the albatross Aug. 14.

“It just happened to be swimming alongside us and it looked like it might be in trouble,” he said.

Sharp, 92, scooped the bird up and carried her on his lap to shore. He handed her off to a NOAA Fisheries research biologist who took the animal to get emergency treatment.

Staff at PAWS in Lynn- wood worked to save the albatross, but she died Aug. 30.

The Progressive Animal Welfare Society sees about 260 different species each year, Wildlife Director Jennifer Convy said, but the short-tailed albatross was a first for everyone on staff.

“This may be the only short-tailed albatross any of us ever sees or works on,” said the 20-year veteran of wildlife rehabilitation. “These are shy birds in the wild so it’s unlikely that you and I would ever see one.”

There are only about 4,400 short-tailed albatross in the world. The seabirds are listed under the federal Endangered Species Act. They typically live off the coast of Japan and Alaska but young birds occasionally fly along the West Coast.

When the bird arrived at PAWS on Aug. 15 she was dehydrated and emaciated. Her webbed feet had holes and sores.

Staff made protective booties for the animal to make it less painful to walk and easier to keep the wounds clean.

“They aren’t very graceful walkers,” Convy said.

The bird’s leg had been broken and healed a few months before her rescue. Staff couldn’t determine how she was injured but they believe it added to the bird’s poor health.

Plastic was found in the bird’s stomach and Convey wanted to remind people not to litter. Albatross and other seabirds face threats from ingesting plastic and becoming entangled in garbage.

The albatross was eating squid and gained a pound and a half while she was at PAWS. She weighed 7.5 pounds when she died. Her wings spanned about seven feet.

Convy said PAWS staff aren’t sure why the seabird died. Laboratory work to determine the cause of death may take several weeks.

Bone, blood, tissue, feathers and some internal organ samples are now being studied. A taxidermist will prepare the bird for use as a teaching tool.

The young bird was grey and brown but her feathers would have turned white as it aged. Adults have a white back, black and white wings and a white head with light gold that extends to the back of their necks.

People can identify young and old short-tailed albatross from other albatross by their large bubblegum-pink bills.

Convy said PAWS staff learned a lot about the species while caring for her. They observed the behavior, feeding preferences and defensive instincts of the short-tailed albatross.

Convy was surprised by how tolerant the creature was despite the trauma of having people work on her. “Not nice, not nice at all, but definitely tolerant,” she said. “She was a biter.”

The experience may help rehabilitate other birds in the future, Convy said.

The number of short-tailed albatross are increasing in the Pacific Northwest and is expected to continue to rise.

The birds were almost hunted to extinction in the early 1900s. Their feathers and body parts were highly prized for hats, decorative items and ink pen quills.

By 1949, they were thought to be extinct until a few birds returned to their nesting territories on Torishima, which means “bird island.” The short-tailed albatross is revered in Japan, Alaska and some other cultures.

To learn more about the bird, go to bit.ly/1QLXyGv.

Amy Nile: 425-339-3192; anile@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @AmyNileReports

Talk to us

More in Local News

Superior Court Judge Eric Lucas is retiring at end of year, after -- years on the bench. The former Mariner High School student was its first ASB president, went to Harvard Law School, and as an undergrad majored in creative writing. Photographed at Snohomish County Courthouse on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020 in Everett, Washington.  (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Judge Eric Lucas, who broke barriers on bench, dies at 67

Lucas was the first Black judge elected to Snohomish County Superior Court.

Work related to improvements at the intersection of Highways 9 and 204 will close a road and reduce lanes in Lake Stevens through Oct. 1. (Washington State Department of Transportation)
Road disruptions starting around Highway 9 in Lake Stevens

Lane reductions and closures are part of the work to improve the intersection at Highways 9 and 204.

Police: Mill Creek man, 63, accidentally shot by son

Detectives believe the dad was mistaken as an intruder. The injuries are not life threatening.

In 2023, the Department of Transportation will widen a two-mile stretch of Highway 531 from 43rd Avenue NE to 67th Avenue NE. (WSDOT)
Smokey Point road improvements won’t be done before industrial center

Amazon, NorthPoint are coming but the state will not begin widening Highway 531 until 2023.

Mary Johnson (Davis) (FBI)
FBI offers $10,000 reward for info on missing Tulalip woman

Mary Johnson, then 39, was supposed to get a ride from Fire Trail Road to a house near Oso on Nov. 25.

Bufeng Gao, owner of Qin Xi'an Noodles, receives a check from the Edmonds Chamber Foundation's Wish Fund outside of her restaurant that was burned in a fire on Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021 in Edmonds, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
After arson burns Edmonds plaza, 14 businesses need help

Plum Tree Plaza — a cultural hub for Asian Americans — burned in a three-alarm fire early Sept. 11.

Rebecca Haskins (Everett Police Department) 20210913
Missing Everett teenager located

Rebecca Haskins had last been seen the morning of Sept. 4. Police reported her found Wednesday.

Sultan police looking for tips after rash of car prowls

On Sunday, the department responded to 20 reports at Sportsman Park and trailheads near Gold Bar.

Construction continues at the site of the former Kmart for 400 apartments. and is slated for completion in 2023. Photo on September 14, 2021. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Coming soon to Everett, 430 apartments at former Kmart site

DevCo, Inc. is building six-story apartments “for the workforce” on Evergreen Way, near Boeing Freeway.

Most Read