A few weeks ago, a helicopter was sent on a rescue mission to a remote location deep in Limahuli Valley on Kauai’s north shore. This time, it wasn’t a hiker in distress needing rescue. The mission was part of an on-going effort to save the endangered Newell’s Shearwater from extinction. From Kaua‘i, HPR contributing reporter Scott Giarman has more.
90% of endangered Newell’s Shearwaters – `A`o in Hawaiian – live on Kauai’s north shore. Other small populations are believed to be on the Big Island, Molokai, Lehua Island and perhaps elsewhere. The Shearwaters took a big hit in 1992’s Hurricane Iniki and populations have been declining ever since, due in large part to predators like cats, rats, pigs and Barn Owls.
Late last month, the US Fish & Wildlife Service led a team of more than a dozen people who removed seven large, healthy chicks—taking them to an area within the Kīlauea Point National Wildlife Refuge protected by a predator-proof fence.
The timing of the move was critical. Shearwaters stay with their young to ensure they grow big and strong; then the parents leave. It takes a while for the young ones to figure out that their parents aren’t coming back. Eventually, hunger and instinct drive the young birds to leave their burrows. The rescuers successfully captured the birds during this intermediate stage in their natural home deep in Limahuli Valley.
The young Shearwaters are now snug in their new homes within the protection of the predator-proof fence. Soon, they will emerge and begin their first flights---feeding from the ocean. Before they go, the young birds will imprint an image of the night sky so they will know where their protected home is when it is time to return.