Human-aided shearwaters awe fourth graders

WAILUA — Kumu Leilani Kaleiohi was so touched by the release of the Ao, or Newell’s Shearwater, she penned an oli Thursday in Wailua.

“You students are the first to sing this because I just wrote it, last night,” Kaleiohi said, offering the oli to five rehabilitated ao from the Save Our Shearwaters program that were released before awestricken fourth-grade students from the Elsie Wilcox Elementary School.

Coordinated by the Kauai Endangered Seabird Recovery Project and the SOS, the release was intended to raise awareness about the Kauai ao.

“This event gives local school children an opportunity to see and appreciate these unique birds,” said Brooke McFarland, KESRP Avian Conservation Research Associate, and event coordinator. “By talking to children about the conservation issues surrounding this speciies, and highlighting the fact that Kauai is the last main refuse in the world for the ao, we can inspire the next generation into helping protect the species.”

The Garden Isle is host to an estimated 90 percent of the world population, states a release from the KESRP.

McFarland said unfortunately has experienced dramatic population declines in recent years.

Jean Olbert of the SOS said this year, there have been fewer birds collected — not because of the population decline — but because the peak fledging is taking place during the full moon, resulting in fewer fall outs, or birds dropping out of the sky due to confusion and disorientation from lights.

“It is important to save the shearwaters because they are endangered and only live on Kauai,” said Max King, 10, an Island School student. “I like the Ao because it is named after the sound it makes.”

Brody Song, 9, a Wilcox School student, said the ao is “important to fishermen because when they see the bird flying over the water, they know there are probably fish underneath it.”

McFarland elaborated on the significant threats posed to these endangered seabirds which nests in the mountains, from introduced predators such as feral cats, rats, and pigs.

When leaving their nests for the first time, usually in mid-September through mid-December, they face other challenges, including invasive plants and powerline collisions. The birds are also vulnerable to light attraction while making their way to the sea.

The confusion when encountering light causes the birds to circle around until they become exhausted, eventually crashing to the ground, a phenomena called “fall-out.”

Unless getting help from human rescuers, the grounded birds are unlikely to survive, getting run over by cars, or eaten by dogs and cats.

Rescued shearwater chicks are rehabilitated by the SOS program at the Kauai Humane Society, and when strong enough, are released over the ocean.

The Kauai Endangered Seabird Recovery Project is a State of Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Forestry and Wildlife project, administered by the Pacific Cooperative Studies Unit of the University of Hawaii.

The Save Our Shearwaters Program is housed at the Kauai Humane Society and supported by the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative.

• Dennis Fujimoto, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0453 or dfujimoto@thegardenisland.com.

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