Saturday, January 5, 2019 dead Albatross!

Seward, Alaska

Sharp-eyed Tasha spotted a dead, large, dark bird floating in a small life raft loosely tied at the end of E dock in the Seward Harbor. She reported it to me shortly before noon, and notified the harbor staff on her way to a noon meeting.

I was unable to respond until 1:38 pm; it was still there. What a sad sight! The bird floated on its back with no sign of the head. Its exposed breast was frosted white; the underwater wings looked long and black. The net basket encrusted with mussels and seaweed indicated that this orange raft had been at sea for a long time.

I knelt down and with a big heave-ho, grabbed the bird by one soggy wing and landed the dripping carcass on the icy concrete dock. Huge, heavy bird! The long, narrow dark wings unfolded. I got a look at its long, pale bill and black feet. It had to be an ALBATROSS!

How in the world did this phenomenal pelagic Albatross get trapped in the netting to die in the raft? The extensive damage to its neck and head spoke of entanglement, struggle, and perhaps abrasion after death. Perhaps it landed on the abandoned raft out in the Gulf of Alaska, tried to grab a fish through the netting, got its head stuck, and flipped over into the raft while trying to escape. The long-winged bird did not have a chance. What a tragedy!

To verify the ID, I used the COASST Field Guide to Alaska Beached Birds. Three webbed toes, foot huge: Tubenoses > Albatrosses. The Short-tailed Alabatross, Laysan and Black-footed Albatrosses all have a hooked bill, huge body, long, narrow wings. Allegedly they all smell like WD-40, but this one’s foul odor could have killed a snake. 

Plumage aside, the measurements immediately ruled out the Short-tailed as too large. However, the numbers were in range for both species: bill 115 mm (slightly longer and out of range for both), wing chord 50 cm, tarsus length 99 cm.

Unfortunately, details about the plumage on the head were not available. But the mostly dusky brown plumage, dark breast, dark underwing linings, and black feet pointed to BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSS.

According to the Fish and Wildlife Alaska Seabird Information Series, though the Black-footed Albatross primarily nests in the NW Hawaiian Islands, it forages in Alaskan waters in the summer months. Non-breeders may remain in Alaska throughout the year and breeding birds may also journey to Alaska to find food for their young, a more than 5000-mile round trip!

According to the All About Birds website, the North American Waterbird Conservation Plan estimates a population of 148,000 breeding Black-footed Albatrosses in North America. It is listed as a species of highest concern. Risks include fishing practices including unmodified long-line fisheries, drift nets, and bycatch, sea-level rise, storm surges, and oil pollution of marine waters. Add ingestion of plastics. Add an abandoned life raft with a deadly webbing basket.

As of yesterday, the raft was still there. It’s past time to get that innocent-looking killer out of the water and deactivated.

Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

No comments:

Post a Comment