Updated on December 3, 2019
By Hob Osterlund, Safina Center Fellow
A few weeks ago—around noon on November 8—naturalist Kim Steutermann Rogers was searching for Laysan albatross (Mōlī) on a particular coastal area of Kaua’i. The birds had all been at sea for several months, and it was time for their new nesting season to start.
As she hiked, Rogers wondered what she would find. She knew all about increased international pressures on seabirds: ocean acidification, diminishing food sources, pelagic plastics, longline fishing, massive die-offs—the list goes on.
You cannot help but worry.
But then she spotted him. The first Mōlī back from foraging over millions of square miles of the vast North Pacific. As Rogers inched closer, she got a good look at the leg band: H614. She checked her records, and discovered H614 had also been the first returning bird in 2018. Not only had he been the first bird back both years, he was standing in the same spot.
Mōlī wayfinding skills are one characteristic that makes them the quintessential Hawaiian birds. Like early Polynesians and todayʻs Hawaiians, their oceanic navigational skills are superior. Unsurpassed, really. Beyond belief.
Love was in the air: Mōli kept returning, one at a time. Each bird was waiting for a very specific other. One stood, looking out to sea. One slept like there was no tomorrow, his bill tucked under his wing. One insinuated himself into a dancing pair and was roundly rebuked. The lucky one? He saw his mate. She saw him. They hurried to each other, chattering away, then settled into each otherʻs smells. They both knew where it itched, and exactly where to scratch.
On November 22, Rogers found the season’s first eggs. H614 and his mate were among the parents of those eggs.
The next generation had begun.
To celebrate their return to Kauaʻi, the second annual “Welcome Back” Mōlī” Blessing Ceremony was held at Kīlauea Point National Wildlife Refuge on November 29. Kumu (teacher) Kehaulani Kekua and her hālau (traditional hula school) Hālau Palaihiwa O Kaipuwaia performed traditional protocols of chants and hula kahiko (ancient hula) in honor of the event.
The blessing also coincided with the Makahiki season. Makahiki starts with the rising of Makali‘i (the constellation Pleiades) at sunset, and is known as the ancient Hawaiian New Year. It honors Lono, the deity of peace, music, fertility and rainfall.
The mōlī is revered as a kino lau (embodiment) of Lono.
The chants asked for health and well-being for the earth and all of its occupants — two-legged, four-legged, winged, finned, slithering, furred, and rooted. Humans and non-humans. The hālau also offered ho‘okupu— conveying appreciation and a desire to strengthen the relationship between the giver and the receiver—and performed a debut of two original chants and hula that Kumu Kehaulani Kekua had composed especially for the mōlī.
The “Welcome Home Mōlī” Blessing was spectacular in every way: sun, trade winds, a kumu and and her hālau chanting for the well-being of the birds. Keiki (children) performing for the first time. Nene grazing, nonplussed. Mōlī flying overhead.
Measuring the impact of such powerful offerings is like trying to count the number of apples in a seed.
That said, what was going on at the nearest nesting colony, about a hundred yards away and easily within earshot? “Mōlī Hill” was crowded with more than one hundred and fifty albatross that morning, significantly more than the previous count.
You be the judge.