Bolus Program

Albatross and Lagoon 519x319

Albatrosses feed their fast growing chicks by regurgitating into their mouth lots of squid, flying fish eggs and fish larva. Much like an owl pellet, a bolus is the indigestible material that is “thrown up” by the juvenile chick when it is about five months old. Shaped like a fat cigar, you can dissect a bolus to assess the health of our ocean, the foraging marine world for thousands of albatross trying to gather enough food to feed their hungry chick.

How to Request
Further Resources 


 Twice a month a small aircraft connects Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge with Honolulu. This flight is responsible for resupplying the remote field station, transporting personal, scientists, volunteers as well as boluses. At the moment this is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s final field station that is staffed year round within Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Due to complexities with transportation and understaffing as well as numerous other hurdles, there have been years where bolus supplies were minimal. The 2015-2016 school year saw a record number of boluses paired with a record number of requests.  

It is not guaranteed we will have boluses in any given year. Due to limited supply based on demand and remote island field-to-classroom distribution logistics, we encourage instructors to make full use of each bolus. You can have the greatest impact with your bolus by pairing with a fellow educator and plan on recycling and reusing your precious boluses each year. By spraying a dissected bolus with water and reforming it to its cigar shape in a sandwich bag then refreezing, your bolus can educate and enlighten for years to come.  Regardless of your immediate access to natural boluses there are many free and creative resources available to engage students in marine debris education. Several resources are listed on this page.

In an effort to stretch our limited supply we will be instituting a few guidelines to better enable us to fairly distribute boluses.  

  •  We ask that educators request only a 5:1 student to bolus ratio based on their average class/group size. (Example: If you have 100 students split in to 4 classes with an average class of 25 students, we ask that you only request 5 for dissection plus 1 demonstration bolus [one that will remain intact from year to year] for a total of 6 boluses.) Schools are expected to share, so if requests are received from two or more educators from the same school/ camp/ institution, a reply will be given to the instructor that their school has already received boluses.   
  •  An institution will only be able to request boluses every other year. (Example: If your institution requests and receives boluses in 2016, the next year that institution will be able to receive boluses is in 2018.) 
  •  We will give priority to educators who are willing to provide us with feedback/photos/lesson plans/etc. The valuable feedback you provide based on your bolus dissection allows us to justify our bolus program. Without feedback from educators, the bolus program may cease to exist.  


We appreciate all that educators do and thank you for your commitment to your students. Our intention is to be fair and equitable to all instructors that request boluses, so the story of albatrosses at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge may have the maximum impact possible.



Background on boluses and the collection sites: 



How to request boluses from us:

Due to the high demand and large volume of requests we are unable to fulfill any new requests. This does not necessarily apply to those who have already submitted requests, we will continue to fill existing requests until the bolus supply is depleted. We will not maintain a waiting list, please submit your request after May 1, 2019. 

Please email with any questions or concerns.  


  • Due to the high popularity and limited supply stemming from the remoteness of Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, we cannot guarantee boluses. 
  • Suggestions for reusing boluses: Keep one bolus intact so there is always an example. Reuse the remainder of your boluses. Even though they will not retain the original shape, the content and example should have the desired impact.
  • Please review the guidelines in the section above. Requests above 10 boluses will only be considered in extreme circumstances.



Further reading and resources:  

Winged Ambassadors 

You can do a bolus lesson with your students using the Winged Ambassadors - Ocean Literacy through the Eyes of Albatross curriculum from Oikonos. Lesson 4 is a "virtual bolus dissection" using detailed professional images is available in both printable and projectable formats:

- Aligned with Next Generation Science & Common Core Standards

- New Videos: Albatross Barfing Plastic & Nesting Albatross

- Improved Albatross Bolus and Mapping activity worksheets

- Tracking data provided for Google Earth mapping


Kauai Live Stream

A live-stream viewing of the rearing of two Laysan albatross chicks lets your class follow their development on the Island of Kaua’i through the Cornell University albatross camera. Two Laysan albatross pair nested on private yards as they were being monitored by a remote camera 24 hours non-stop so the action was shared live with the world. This is a great alternative to a class pet and a way to follow the life of a chick throughout the upcoming school year. 
All About Birds Live Cam 


Kauai Albatross Network

The Kaua‘i Albatross Network is dedicated to helping preserve the vitality of the Laysan albatross and promoting safe habitat on which this magnificent bird depends. 



The Univerisy of Hawaii’s C-MORE education and outreach program is a fabulous resource for teachers with online lessons available. Check out the marine debris 3-part lesson plan where students critically examine data and samples and take part in activities that explore the causes, geographical distribution, and biological impacts of marine debris. Actual kits, which include a binder of all the lessons as well as various pieces of equipment to be used with the lessons, are available for loan in Hawai’i, California and Oregon via an online reservation form; (not delivered; you'll need to arrange for pickup & return.) There is a bolus encased in resin, as well as resin mounts of various items from dissected boluses.

Marine Debris Monitoring Toolkit for Educators

The Marine Debris Monitoring Toolkit for Educators was created through a collaboration between the NOAA Marine Debris Program (MDP) and the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. This toolkit provides many useful marine debris resources and adapts the MDP's Marine Debris Monitoring and Assessment Project, a robust citizen science monitoring initiative, for classroom use. The Toolkit is designed to assist teachers in educating their students about marine debris and involving them in marine debris research and outreach. Using the Toolkit, students conduct marine debris surveys, which can help to provide valuable information on where, when, and what kind of debris is showing up. Students can enter their data into a national database, analyze monitoring results, and become involved in marine debris stewardship within their communities.


Marine Debris Skimmer

Facts, figures and background about marine debris and its global prevalence consolidated in to one place by Marine Ecosystems and Management (MEAM) 


National Geographic Laysan Albatross Virtual Bolus Dissection

Students use online videos and photo galleries to conduct a virtual bolus dissection for the laysan albatross. They investigate how marine debris can be mistaken for food and harm marine organisms. 


 Support the Bolus Program on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge

If you would like to donate funds to help support this program the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge's non-profit FOMA accepts donations at:


Video Links:

UC Santa Barbara produced video styrofoam and the detrimental impact on our oceans 

Polynesian Voyaging Society's production of the Journey of Wisdom

To stay in the loop with projects associated with marine debris and albatross in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, consider following these Facebook and Website pages: