Posted on March 1, 2017
By Safina Center Fellow Hob Osterlund
The starring chick of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s “TrossCam, Season Four” hatched on January 26, just in time to go live from Kauaʻi. Hawaiian cultural arts practitioner and Cornell cam operator Hōkū Cody dubbed the chick “Kalama.” The name refers to a torch or a lamp, and suggests enlightenment. As is considered respectful practice in Hawaiʻi, a blessing was held for both the project and the birds.
This year’s nest features adoptive parents Mahealani and Pilialoha, a female-female pair who incubated an infertile egg last year, during Season Three. After their egg failed, they stayed around for a few extra weeks to babysit other chicks, and were fondly nicknamed “the aunties” by the viewing public. Female-female pairs are relatively common in Laysan albatross colonies in Hawaiʻi, and this year thirteen pairs on approved private lands on the north shore received an adopted egg removed from high-risk nests near a Navy runway on the west side of Kauaʻi. Additional eggs were flown to Oʻahu to support the growth of a new colony there.
The albatross translocation project involves several entities, including the U.S. Navy, Hawaiʻi Division of Forestry and Wildlife, Pacific Rim Conservation, Kauaʻi Albatross Network and three private landowners. When there are millions of Laysan albatross in the North Pacific, why all this effort for a few eggs? Because the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, home to more than 75% of those birds, is destined to be submerged with sea level rise related to climate change. Each year, countless nests are already lost to storm surge and to erosion, especially on low-lying atolls such as Midway.
Kalama’s two moms have been ideal parents so far. They easily accepted their adoptive egg and incubated it for several weeks after their own infertile egg was removed. In the first four weeks, Kalama has grown from a wobbly hatchling to a cantaloupe-sized chick who takes daily expeditions outside the nest. As Kalama grows, Pilialoha and Mahealani must forage farther at sea. Their babe may wait as long as two weeks between meals. If all goes well, Kalama will fledge from a Kauaʻi bluff in late June or early July. The Kauaʻi Albatross Network, in cooperation with several talented individuals, is in the process of filming a documentary about Kalama and her moms. Stay tuned for more details.