Japan: thousands of Laysan and black-footed albatross chicks on Midway Atoll may have perished in the tsunami

Thousands of albatross may have died in tsunami

Tens of thousands of Laysan and black-footed albatross chicks on Midway Atoll may have perished in the tsunami following the Great East Japan Earthquake, according to a Japanese oceanic photographer who recently visited the atoll.

Midway Atoll is located about 2,000 kilometers from Honolulu and about 4,000 kilometers from the Sanriku coastline. The atoll is a world-famous breeding ground for the Laysan albatross.

According to information from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sources on the atoll, the first major tsunami reached the atoll at 11:36 p.m. on March 10 (7:36 p.m. on March 11 in Japan). A total of four tsunami—some up to 1.5 meters high—were confirmed, said photographer Katsuyuki Sugimori.

“I saw a lot of dead albatross chicks [on the coast of Eastern Island]. It was shocking to see how much debris caught up in the tsunami washed up on the island,” Sugimori said.

About 20 percent of Sand Island, the largest island of the atoll, was submerged, while tsunami inundated 60 percent of Eastern Island, the next-largest island.

All 81 people on Sand Island during the disaster were safe. However, lowland birds such as Laysan and black-footed albatross chicks were swept away.

According to a USFWS survey, more than 110,000 chicks—about 22 percent of this year’s albatross population—were missing as of April.

In November, an albatross from Torishima island in the Izu Island chain laid an egg on Eastern Island, the first time a bird from Torishima was able to do so.

Although the albatross that hatched from the egg was swept up in the tsunami, local researchers saved its life. The USFWS confirmed the young bird left Eastern Island on about June 17.

Akira FujinoYomiuri Shimbun Senior Writer