Mother and chick. Photo courtesy: © Jaymi Heimbuch
A couple years ago TreeHugger.com was excited to learn about a 60-year-old Laysan albatross named Wisdom hatched her 35th chick. Then last year, they were excited to visit Midway Atoll where she nests, and where she was rearing yet another chick. Now this year, miraculously, Wisdom has returned to the atoll -- now as the oldest living wild bird as she outlived a Northern Royal albatross named Grandma -- and has nested yet again, with her newest chick hatching on February 3rd. Wisdom is now 62.
Wisdom's age puts her at living more than twice as long as the average Laysan albatross. It means that Wisdom has overcome an incredible number of obstacles to survival, not the least of which is the thousands of deadly hooks tied to the lines of industrial fishing vessels. Albatross are often killed as bycatch, becoming snagged on the hooks as they try to grab bait fish when the miles-long lines are dropped in the water. Not only that, but there is also the problem of plastic pollution. Albatross commonly mistake pieces of plastic as food -- cigarette lighters look an awful lot like tiny squid to an albatross. Surviving ingestion of plastic, which sits in the stomach and can kill a bird by starvation, alone is a mighty feat. Also, the fact that she is still rearing young may change science's understanding of these birds.
From The Guardian
"It blows us away that this is a 62-year-old bird and she keeps laying eggs and raising chicks," said Bruce Peterjohn, chief of the bird banding laboratory at the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Centre in Laurel. "We know that birds will eventually stop reproducing when they're too old," he said. "The assumption about albatrosses is it will happen to them, too. But we don't know where that line is. That, in and of itself, is pretty amazing."
Wisdom the Laysan albatross, aged 62, and her partner, believed to be younger, at the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in the Pacific ocean. Photo courtesy: Pete Leary/The Washington Post