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Researchers Observe First Endangered Native Seabird ʻUaʻu on Maunakea in Over 65 Years

LOHE Bioacoustics Lab, 'Ua'u IMG_4066.JPG
The LOHE Bioacoustics Lab
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University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo researchers located an endangered native seabird called the ʻuaʻu and a nesting site on Maunakea in May 2021.

Researchers have discovered an endangered ʻuaʻu burrow on Maunakea in the first documented nesting site of the Hawaiian petrel on Maunakea since 1954.

University of Hawai‘i at Hilo graduate Bret Nainoa Mossman has been looking for an ʻuaʻu burrow for the past four years. After many long, cold nights on the high elevation slopes, he and his collaborators finally located the endangered native seabird in May.

But their excitement turned to dread last week when another creature was spotted on the cameras put up to monitor the nesting site — a feral cat.

"It’s the middle of nowhere. It’s about as remote as you can get on Hawai‘i Island and there’s a cat there. Cats can actually move quite a distance. There are records of some cats moving over 60 miles," Mossman said. "So there’s a possibility that this cat could have come from Hilo."

LOHE Bioacoustics Lab 'Ua'u Mauna Kea Endangered Bird
The LOHE Bioacoustics Lab
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"That’s why what we do even in our own backyards really matters in these critical conservation areas," he added.

He said losing the bird would be significant because it’s the only one that researchers have confirmed is part of the Maunakea population.

"It took us four years to find this one burrow. If we lose it, it might take another four years to find another one, or we might not find one at all because these birds are so restricted, and as we’ve seen, this is the second cat we’ve had show up at this burrow, just in the time that we’ve found it," Mossman told Hawai‘i Public Radio.

Mossman continues to work alongside the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands and the Department of Land and Natural Resources to try to trap the cat.

Professor Patrick Hart of UH Hilo also worked with Mossman over the past four years to find the ʻuaʻu burrow.

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Jim Denny
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'Ua'u are dark grey on top with a white underside. They have bi-colored pink and black webbed feet. They can grow to be 16 inches long with a three-foot wingspan.

The ʻuaʻu belongs to the expansive Procellariidae family, which encompasses over 50 species of petrels. These seabirds can be found across all of the world's oceans and nearly all of its seas.

Like its seafaring cousins, our Hawaiian petrel spends nearly all of its time on the open water. But between March and November, ʻuaʻu will return to the highest peaks on the Hawaiian islands in order to breed and raise their fledglings.

They are currently listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Redlist as endangered, with an estimated 7,500 to 16,600 mature birds remaining.

Dr. Hart’s LOHE Bioacoustics Lab first captured the calls of the ʻuaʻu on Maunakea in 2018. You can hear the song of the Hawaiian petrol for yourself on this past episode of the Manu Minute.

The 'ua'u belongs to the expansive Procellariidae family, which encompasses over 50 species of petrels. These seabirds can be found across all of the world's oceans and nearly all of its seas.

Patrick Hart is the host of HPR's Manu Minute. He runs the Listening Observatory for Hawaiian Ecosystems (LOHE) Lab at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo.
Savannah Harriman-Pote is a producer for The Conversation and Manu Minute. Contact her at talkback@hawaiipublicradio.org.
Ann Tanimoto-Johnson is the Lab Manager & Research Technician in the Hart Lab/Listening Observatory for Hawaiian Ecosystems (LOHE) Bioacoustics Lab. She researches the ecology, bioacoustics, and conservation of our native Hawaiian forests, birds, and bats.
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