Albatross Bolus Education Program

Give your student's a first hand experience by dissecting a bolus in your classroom!

Learn about the effects of marine debris on sea birds and our oceans. Request boluses for your class and use activity sheets, pictures, and videos to better inform the future generation of conservationists on the impacts of plastic.

Dissect real albatross boluses from Kuaihelani (Midway Atoll) and learn about the effects of plastics and marine debris on wildlife and their ocean habitats. Please email for more information.

Cultural Importance

Albatross are very important species to Hawaiian culture, their parts used in many cultural practices. Mōlī, laysan albatross, serve as an 'aumākua, physical animal embodiment of ancestors or gods. During the Makahiki season, Hawaiian New Year festival, Ka'upu (black footed) feathers were used to make staff depicting Lono, the Hawaiian god of farming and fertility. Suspended albatross skins were also hung from these staff and carried around the island.

Feathers from the Ka'upu and Mōlī were used to create lei, staff, and kahili (royal standards). These kahili can be seen at Iolani Palace framing the throne. Mōlī bones were historically used by Hawaiians as tattoo needles. 

Kiamanu, master feather workers, are culturally important and are still around today. Utilizing feathers collected on Kuaihelani (Midway) and Hōlanikū (Kure) atoll, through the Migratory Bird Treaty Act permit to ensure cultural activities are not lost. The Kiamanu Project "aims to support the perpetuation of traditional practices and ceremonies that promote responsible environmental kinship and whose tools and feather products were traditionally made from seabirds."

What is a bolus?

A bolus is the indigestible materials that are thrown up when the albatross chicks fledge before going out to sea. They contain organic, squid beaks and fish eggs, and inorganic matter, plastics and pollutants. These bolus act as good indicators on the health of our oceans and current marine debris situation.

Albatross are some of the largest seabirds in the world with wingspans that can measure over 10 feet. Able to glide through the air for hours at a time and can fly long distances without flapping or landing. Spending majority of their lives at sea only to return to land to mate, have babies, and feed their chicks.

While at sea they dive down into the water to collect food, usually large fish and squid. The sheen of these prey often resemble plastic on the water's surface. Microplastics and fishing line often get scooped up by the albatross as it is floating near the targeted prey. This causes albatross to consume pollutants and feed them to their chicks on shore.

Kuaihelani and Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument

The bolus you will be dissecting are sourced from Kuaihelani, Midway Atoll, located in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument about 1,200 miles northwest of Oahu. It is a third of the way between Oahu and Japan! 

Watch this video on the cultural significance of Papahānaumokuākea: Papahānaumokuākea Cultural Briefing on Vimeo

"Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument is the largest contiguous fully protected conservation area conservation area
A conservation area or wildlife management area is a type of national wildlife refuge that consists primarily or entirely of conservation easements on private lands. These conservation easements support private landowner efforts to protect important habitat for fish and wildlife. There are 13 conservation areas and nine wildlife management areas in the National Wildlife Refuge System.

Learn more about conservation area
under the U.S. flag, and one of the largest marine conservation areas in the world. It encompasses 582,578 square miles of the Pacific Ocean (1,508,870 square kilometers) - an area larger than all the country's national parks combined." - NOAA

Bolus Dissection Activity Materials

We have provided a presentation to be shared with students prior to the dissection activity. This gives a brief background on albatross', bolus, cultural importance, Kuaihelani, and marine debris issues. 

Albatross Bolus Dissection presentation 

Activity sheets are also provided to aid in the discussion and lead the dissection so students are able to better understand and investigate their findings from the bolus. Have students fill them out within their dissection groups or for younger students as a class together!

Bolus Dissection Activity Materials