Albatross reality TV

LIHUE — She may not know it, but Koloakulua could be the best-known Laysan albatross on the planet.

A webcam installed next to her nest at birth. Hundreds of thousands of online visitors. And now, a video and children’s book about her early life.

The chick was born Jan. 27 on a private property on Kauai’s North Shore. For the next five months, she was the star of a first-of-its-kind, “Truman Show” style experience via a live-streaming camera — part of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Bird Cams project.

“It was really quite an amazing experience,” said Hob Osterlund, founder of the Kauai Albatross Network, a partner in the project. “We all learned quite a lot about a day in the life of an albatross.”

The project offered a unique opportunity for people — far and wide — to watch a Laysan chick grow up, from the day it hatched until it spread its wings for its maiden flight to sea. Along the way, there was preening and feeding, long naps and nest repairs, hours of awkward exploration, even friendly interactions with neighborhood chickens.

By June, Kaloakulua’s website had nearly 2 million hits from 195 countries.

“The world got to know her,” Osterlund said.

Since she headed out to sea, project partners have condensed more than 3,000 hours of video footage of the young bird into a 48-minute video. And several digitized stills from those video clips are featured in a new children’s book about Kaloakulua.

“Albatross of Kauai: The Story of Kaloakulua” is written and illustrated by Kauai resident Susan Dierker, who also authored “Knuckles: The Hound of Hanalei.”

Osterlund and Dierker will discuss the Bird Cams project, show the video and answer questions during a free event Wednesday. “An Albatross Reality Show: Kaloakulua Grows Up Before Our Eyes” is from 6 to 7 p.m. at the Princeville Public Library.

Dierker will also be selling and signing copies of her new book at the event. Each book comes with a copy of the DVD.

Early this year, Dierker said she decided to write a children’s book about Laysan albatross on Kauai. However, it was only after meeting with Osterlund and getting involved with the Cornell project that she decided to focus exclusively on Kaloakulua.

Above all, Dierker came away with an understanding, love and appreciation for the birds.

“To watch them together, you see devotion and true affection,” she said.

The book, she hopes, will raise awareness about the unique species. “By educating people, they will want to protect them,” Dierker said.

Osterlund says Kauai offers something truly special. It is one of the only places on Earth where people can witness Laysan albatross in person. And with Midway Atoll, which Osterlund describes as the “mothership” for the species, expected to be hit hard by rising sea levels and climate change, Kauai could end being their Noah’s Ark.

“My main goal is to have people get a chance to see this very rare treasure that we have here. Nobody else can see an albatross up close and personal anywhere in the world,” she said. “People are beginning to recognize what a treasure they are.”

Osterlund is in the process of writing her own book, entitled “Holy Moli: Albatross and Other Awesome Ancestors.”

The recent project was the world’s first Laysan albatross live streaming nest cam, offering a never-before-seen glimpse into the complex social lives of these nesting seabirds. The project was so successful that Osterlund is planning to give it another go next year. To do so she must secure funding, a private property owner willing to participate and, above all, a second feathered star.

“We’re very hopeful we can do it again,” she said.


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