‘A‘o blessed before flight

PO‘IPU — The weather was ripe for the release, a steady breeze blowing in from the ocean and filtered light from the overcast skies.

A Newell’s Shearwater fluttered excitedly in the hands of Monique Imberski as she displayed the bird for students of Island School and Ke Kula Ni‘ihau o Kekaha.

“She can smell the ocean and wants to go,” Imberski said.

The bird was one of 11 collected overnight from Save Our Shearwaters aid stations between Waimea and Princeville, Kaua‘i Humane Society Director Becky Rhoades said.

Imberski is one of four members on the Shearwaters team, she said.

The Save Our Shearwaters program was under the jurisdiction of Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative, but is now being handled by the humane society with KIUC providing funding, Rhoades said.

Angie Merritt, another member of the Shearwaters team, said the bulk of the 11 birds came from the Kapa‘a area where five birds were picked up.

The release was designed as an event to connect Hawaiian culture, the Newell’s Shearwaters and young students through a blessing for the 2008 cohort of fledgling ‘a‘o, the Hawaiian name for the birds.

The collection resulted from fallout caused by attraction to artificial lights or collision with artificial structures, an SOS press release states. The program gives the young birds a second chance at fledging.

“During the full moon, the birds are not affected that much by bright lights, but during the moon’s phases when it’s dark, they are affected by bright lights,” said SOS member Jacqueline Kozak.

Sabra Kauka, kupuna and teacher of Hawaiian studies at Island School, brought 20 fourth grade students. They joined 10 students from Ke Kula Ni‘ihau o Kekaha to witness the blessing, E Ho‘opomaika‘i ia na Manu ‘A‘o, before the first of the 11 birds lifted off from Kauka’s hands that were uplifted into the wind.

“These birds have been here long before us,” Kozak said. “The ancient Hawaiians used them in many ways, mainly in finding fish and navigation.”

The SOS release states that ‘a‘o are seabirds which mean they only return to land to breed.

During the Shearwater season, fledglings emerge from their nests in ohi‘a and uluhe forests on steep slopes in remote parts of Kaua‘i’s mountain interiors and make their way to open ocean.

The release also states that ‘a‘o, listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, have undergone an estimated 60 percent decline in population size over the last 15 years.

Key threats to ‘a‘o survival include fledgling attraction to artificial lights, predation at colonies, habitat modification by invasive plants and threats to food resources at sea.

Rhoades said since the Kaua‘i Humane Society has taken over the SOS program, it has remodeled some of the facilities used at its Kipu shelter.

“The Shearwaters team retrieves birds, treats them, and when they are hurt, work with Dr. Woltmon,” Rhoades said. “People who find downed seabirds can turn them in at any of 12 SOS aid stations located from Waimea through Hanalei.”

The Shearwaters team also includes Mary Ellis and Peter Chow.

There are SOS aid stations on the Westside at the Waimea, Hanapepe and Kalaheo fire stations; the Port Allen Chevron station and the Pacific Missile Range Facility.

On the South Shore, the aid stations is at the Koloa Fire Station.

Eastside locations include the Lihu‘e and Kapa‘a fire stations, Matson Navigation and the Kaua‘i Humane Society.

North Shore locations include the Kilauea Medical Group, the Princeville Fire Station and the Hanalei Liquor Store.

Save Our Shearwaters is a 30-year-old community participation program. The state Division of Forestry and Wildlife provides logistical and operational support.

For more information, call the Kaua‘i Humane Society at 632-0610 ext. 109.

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