KILAUEA — One bird is missing out on Kauai’s reunion of the moli this season as the Laysan albatross congregate on the North Shore for nesting, and her mate is flying solo.
Pilialoha has been in the spotlight for several years through The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s TrossCam, which streams footage of the birds’ nesting season.
Every year she returns with her female mate, Mahealani and the two incubate an adopted egg, relocated from a colony across the island at the Pacific Missile Range Facility.
But as the 2017 nesting season closed, Pilialoha died tangling with a Hawaii-permitted Deep Set longline vessel while fishing over the Pacific Ocean, and Mahealani has come back to the island alone.
“Mahealani mostly hangs out at her old nest site, but has just started socializing,” said Hob Osterlund, of the Kauai Albatross Network. “She won’t be nesting this year.”
Moli mate for life and when a partner dies, individual birds react differently. Cornell experts say the likelihood that Mahealani will find another mate is high. When she decides to settle with another partner, however, is all up to the albatross Osterlund said.
“When she finds another mate, we won’t likely know who it is until they begin nesting in the fall,” Osterlund said. “She might want even longer. Some birds find new mates within a year, some birds wait much longer.”
Starting today, for the fifth year in a row, the public can watch Mahealani and the rest of her colony on Kauai’s North Shore 24/7 through the Cornell TossCam, which is managed in partnership with Kauai Albatross Network.
Streaming continues until eggs have hatched and fledging is completed in July.
Moli are culturally significant in Hawaii, and most of the albatross that will be on camera this season have Hawaiian names. Chicks will all be named when they hatch by a Hawaiian cultural arts practitioner.
“We ask for most of the on-cam parents and chicks to be given Hawaiian names because they are a vital native Hawaiian bird with strong characteristics of Hawaiian culture: master navigators and powerful sense of place, to name just two,” Osterlund said.
On Nest No. 1 for the 2018 season, male moli Aukelenuiaik (Aukele for short) and his female mate Namakaokahai (Namaka for short) will be on camera. Aukelenuiaik was chosen for his role as a bird hero and Namakaokahai for being a sea goddess and older sister of Pele.
Male moli Manawanui (meaning patient, steadfast) and his partner Moana (meaning open sea) will be on Nest No. 2 and on Nest No. 3, representing the Elton John song “Bennie and the Jets” are male moli Jett and his female mate Bennie.
Annually more than a million people tune into TrossCam. In 2016, more than 21 million minutes of albatross-watching were recorded, which is a boost for awareness and education about the species, according to experts.
“It’s fun, it’s education, it creates a web of people who care about native seabirds,” Osterlund said. “It helps us decide to use less plastic.”
The cameras also teach viewers about predators like feral cats, dogs and pigs; why it’s important to relocate at-risk colonies to safer locations.
There are 17 nests in the colony in the 2018 nesting season, three of which appear on the TrossCam.
Organizers with Kauai Albatross Network and Cornell monitor the birds’ bands to decipher whether they’ve nested before. Viewers can identify a newly-hatched chick with a sibling and parents from previous seasons using the bands.
Locating on Kauai’s North Shore is important, according to experts, because Kauai is the only place where moli nest so close to a populated area.
“Setting up a livestreaming cam gives everyone everywhere the chance to enjoy them,” Osterlund said. “It gives us new insights into their relationships. It opens hearts. It builds connections.”