Conserving the Nature of America
Press Release
Endangered Short-tailed Albatross Dies After Being Found in Ocean off Washington Coast
Rare bird will leave legacy that benefits research and education efforts.

September 18, 2015

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An extremely rare short-tailed albatross found by two fishermen in Neah Bay, Wash., has passed away after a tremendous effort to save the bird. The remarkable bird, however, will leave a legacy through research and education. Credit: Ann Froschauer / USFWS

SEATTLE, Wash. — An extremely rare short-tailed albatross found by two fishermen in Neah Bay, Wash., has passed away after a tremendous effort to save the bird. The remarkable bird, however, will leave a legacy through research and education.

The juvenile female was rescued at sea by local fishermen Bud and Cliff Sharp on August 14, 2015.  It was cared for at Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) in Lynnwood, Wash., and monitored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but died on Aug. 30. The bird was banded as a chick March 2, 2015, by Japanese researchers on Torishima, an active volcanic island south of Tokyo, Japan.

The short-tailed albatross, with a population of only about 4,400 birds in the world, is listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Short-tailed albatross often live off the coast of Japan and Alaska, but young birds occasionally fly along the West Coast. The birds are revered in Japan and across the north Pacific.

Bone, blood, tissue and feather samples, as well as some internal organs, have been sent to research facilities across the nation for study. A taxidermist will prepare the bird for use as a teaching tool for agencies and educators.

“Short-tailed albatross are rare in the Pacific Northwest, but their numbers are increasing,” said Laura Todd, field supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “The PAWS staff worked diligently to save her, but she was too far gone to save. However, it wasn’t in vain. Scientists have a unique opportunity to gain knowledge about the species, and many new people will learn about the short-tailed albatross through this bird.”

Added PAWS Wildlife Director Jennifer Convy: “As sad as it is the bird died, we learned a lot from this individual. We’ll benefit from that should we ever get a short-tailed albatross into PAWS in the future. We never know what species will enter our doors here at PAWS, and this bird is among our most interesting and complicated patients we have received in the 20 years I have worked here.”

The bird’s leg had been broken and healed three to five months prior to her rescue, but it was not possible to determine the source of the injury or where it occurred. The bird was emaciated and highly stressed, which further impacted her already fragile health. The ultimate cause of death has not yet been determined.  

Short-tailed albatross were hunted nearly to extinction by the early 1900s. They were thought to be extinct by 1949, until a few individuals began to return to their nesting territories on Torishima. Today, the current population is estimated about 4,400 birds and growing. A pair has even nested on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in 2011 and again in 2014. Feeding and other activity away from the breeding grounds is focused in Alaska. As the population increases, biologists expect their numbers to increase along the West Coast.

Short-tailed albatross weigh up to 9.5 pounds and have a wingspan of more than 7 feet, which is comparable to that of a bald eagle. You can identify an endangered short-tailed albatross from other albatross by its large, bubblegum-pink bill. Young birds also have the large pink bill, but their feathers are dark brown or gray, gradually turning white as the bird ages. Adults have an entirely white back, black and white wings, and a white head with light gold that extends to the back of its neck.

In almost all cases, wild animals that appear to be injured or sick should be left alone by the public. The first step should be to immediately report the animal to the local authorities, giving a specific location. Sometimes it is best to allow nature to take its course, but in other cases, such as this endangered bird, it is necessary to step in and provide care for the animal.

“The public should almost never rescue an injured animal. When finding an injured animal, stay near the animal if possible and contact the proper authorities,” Todd said. “This was a very unusual case, as the endangered bird was very weak and near death when discovered on the ocean. Since the bird was well offshore, it could have easily been lost after the initial sighting. We owe a debt of gratitude to the Sharp family for their quick actions and handing over the bird to authorities immediately upon arrival at the boat dock.”

The Sharps immediately brought the bird to the dock, where they handed it off to NOAA Fisheries research biologist Pat Gearin. Gearin then took it to West Sound Wildlife Shelter in Bainbridge Island, Wash., which immediately transported it to PAWS Wildlife Center in Lynnwood, Wash., for emergency treatment.

Additional information and media resources are available on this remarkable bird.

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