Albatross killings at Kaena Point were slaughters of innocents

Published July 15, 2017 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2017 Susan Scott

On Dec. 27, 2015, two male Punahou students and one alumnus drove to Kaena Point Natural Area Reserve with a baseball bat, machete and air gun and proceeded to butcher 15 Laysan albatrosses, smash their eggs and steal researchers’ equipment. Parts of this atrocity were posted on social media.

There are so many things wrong with that paragraph, it boggles the mind. But one reason so many people are so upset about this planned act of violence is that these are not little-known birds in a run-of-the-mill park. Kaena Point is like a constellation outlining an extraordinary corner of our island, the albatrosses nesting there its twinkling stars.

It was not always so. In 1983, Craig and I walked to Kaena Point to see our first Laysan albatrosses. There we found roaring vehicles tearing around wrecked dunes, spewing sand on hikers and drowning out the sound of the ocean. We were thrilled, however, to find three albatrosses, standing together on a rise, their white chests gleaming in the noonday sun.

And then someone in a pickup shot them. The photo our friend took just before the killing haunts me to this day.

For years I watched the Kaena Point battle between conservationists and off-roaders. When the state piled up boulders to block vehicles, someone would drive a backhoe out there and open a passage.

Eventually the state got big enough rocks, and without trucks the reserve quickly began to blossom with native plants and animals. A few albatrosses chose to nest there, and gradually a colony was reborn.

Private and public workers have worked diligently for decades to protect and improve Kaena Point, and today it’s a must-see place for both visitors and residents.

Besides being angry over the criminals’ defilement of this special place, we albatross admirers are outraged over the slaughter because bludgeoning albatrosses is like bludgeoning golden retriever puppies.

Laysan albatrosses evolved with no land predators and therefore are not afraid of humans, making the birds a delightful blend of tame and wild. At Midway a curious albatross once untied my shoelaces as I stood talking. When I squatted down to take a picture, another bird pulled a tissue from my gaping pocket.

While working at Tern Island, I once wrote the following: “Cradling a Laysan albatross in my arms was a joy like no other, the bird’s feathers so soft that my work-calloused hands could barely feel them. But my lips could. When it was my turn to hold, I would lower my face to the bird’s head, inhale its fresh smell of the open ocean, and press my lips to its velvety feathers. With this touch, I delivered to the bird a message: You are magnificent and I adore you.”

The Kaena Point incident is a stark contrast to the aloha spirit we enjoy in Hawaii, but the sentencing is done and it’s time to move on. I look forward to November when our albatrosses return to Kaena Point and once again I can walk in the cluster of our island’s brilliant stars.