Wisdom the 67-year-old Laysan albatross is not only still alive and kicking, she’s also alive and laying.
Wisdom tends to her chick, Kukini; February 10, 2016 [Photo by the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge]
This albatross, at age 67, has led a long and full life. She has outlived most of her mates, and has hatched about 30 to 36 chicks—and counting. The US Geological Survey also estimated that Wisdom has flown about two to three million miles since 1956, a distance equivalent to four to six round trips to the moon.
Wisdom’s story, as you might imagine, is also quite fascinating. On December 10, 1956, biologist Chandler Robbins banded an albatross on the Midway Atoll. There was nothing noticeably out of the ordinary about the albatross, and Robbins moved on. That albatross wasn’t seen until 46 later in 2002, when Robbins happened to recapture it. Because the albatross was in good health in spite of her advanced age, she was named Wisdom. She is also known as one of the oldest known animals in the world.
Albatross breeding season on Midway Atoll [Photo by Dan Clark/USFWS]
Robbins himself lived a long and full life, having worked with birds at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center until his death at age 98 in 2017. Understandably, Robbins was very fond of Wisdom. After all, she was able to survive many hazards that have unfortunately caused the deaths of many of her species, like getting caught in fishing lines or ingesting plastic. Wisdom was able to somehow avoid all these hazards in spite of being a wild bird that flies free, and was able to produce quite a lot of offspring as well.
Thus, Wisdom challenges the conventional, well, wisdom about birds. Most wild birds already find it difficult to survive, mate, and raise chicks, but Wisdom has managed to do all three nearly every year for decades. She has been able to forage in the world’s vast oceans, cope with changing climates, and find slivers of land on which to raise her chicks. Her ability to keep laying eggs and raising young is also a boon for her near-threatened species.
Every year, Wisdom flies thousands of miles to Midway Atoll in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, where about 70% of albatrosses nest and raise chicks. US Fish and Wildlife Service Refuge reported that they saw Wisdom and her mate, Akeakamai, near their nest late in November. In December, it was confirmed that Akeakamai was incubating an egg.
Wisdom and her mate Akeakamai (left) watch over their egg; November 28, 2015. Albatrosses are typically monogamous and mate for life. [Photo by Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge]
Wisdom has successfully hatched and raised at least nine chicks with Akeakamai since 2006. “An albatross egg is important to the overall albatross population,” says Bob Peyton, project leader for Midway Atoll Refuge and Memorial. “If you consider that albatross don’t always lay an egg each year and when they do they only raise one chick at a time – each egg is tremendously important in maintaining the survival of a colony.”
Unfortunately, albatrosses face a lot of threats to their survival. Longline commercial fishing, shrinking habitats, natural disasters like tsunamis, and ocean debris are all threats to the species. Wisdom may be contributing to the survival of her species, but other measures need to be taken to ensure that Laysan albatrosses will endure.
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