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Pacific Tsunami Kills Thousands of Seabirds March 18, 2011
Wisdom nesting
A Laysan albatross named Wisdom mothering her chick earlier this month. She was away when the March 11 tsunami hit Miday Atoll, killing thousands of birds.
Thousands of seabirds were killed at Midway when the tsunami generated by the March 11 Japanese offshore quake struck the U.S. Pacific atoll, northwest of Hawaii.

Among the fatalities drowned or buried under debris were at least 1,000 adult and adolescent Laysan albatrosses.

But Wisdom, the 60-year-old Laysan mother highlighted in Earthweek last week as the oldest known wild bird in the United States, survived.

Wildlife biologist John Klavitter of the Fish and Wildlife Service tells Earthweek that Wisdom and her mate were aloft when the wave struck, and almost certainly were unaffected.

Their nest and chick were also spared from the waves, up to 5 feet high, due to their location on one of the higher elevations of Midway’s Sand Island.

Klavitter says most of the birds perished on Eastern Island, which has a lower height above sea level.

Since about 1 million Laysan albatrosses live at Midway Atoll, the loss of 1,000 doesn’t threaten the species.

Biologists say they are unsure how many ground-nesting bonin petrels may have been killed by the tsunami. Barry W. Stieglitz, the project leader for the Hawaiian and Pacific Islands National Wildlife Refuges, estimated the fatalities would probably reach the thousands.

The tsunami completely swamped Spit Island. It washed over 60 percent of Eastern Island, but only covered about 20 percent of Sand Island, the largest of the three.

Photo: John Klavitter - U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service