National Geographic : 1925 Jul
THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE Albatross, a beautiful bird as large as a goose, with snowy breast, black wings, and delicately tinted bill. With it is found the Sooty Albatross, the "Gooney," familiar to tourists on trans-Pacific steam ers, of equal size, but with sober sooty gray plumage. MARAlI)I:RS DlECIMA ITELAYSAN For a part of each year these Albatrosses frequent the high seas, true seafarers, who see no land even during periods of storm. About the first of November they resort to remote, uninhabited islands where they gather in colonies, as have their ancestors for thousands of genera tions, for the purpose of rearing young. On Lavsan their return each year was an event in the life of the guano workers, heralded with as much excitement as the arrival of some famous traveler in settled communities. Early visitors who came to Iaysan, with considerable exaggeration, placed the numbers of Albatross in the millions: actually they ran to many thousands. Mated pairs of the Laysan species dotted the whole inner basin except where bushes prevented their nesting, while the Sooty Albatross colonized the barren sand beaches. Unmolested for centuries on land, the birds of Laysan knew their only enemies in the sea, so that man on his arrival was accepted as a phenomenon of interest, to be treated without fear. Aside from a certain amount of egging, and the pulling of the long, ornamental, central tail spikes of the Red-tailed Tropic Birds, the guano workers troubled the birds little except Sfor the necessary infringement on their breeding areas. When, in 1909, the entire Leeward chain, with the exception of Midway (which is under the jurisdiction of the Navy Department), was set aside as the I lawaiian Ibird Reservation. it seemed that this action would provide final pro tection for the harmless, friendly hordes of sea birds that nested there. But other forces were at work. Fashion still de manded feathers for feminine adornment, and this trade, blocked for the time within the limits of the United States, turned to more distant fields. Word came somehow to Honolulu that poachers were at work to the westward, and in January, 1910, the revenue cutter Thetis, under Captain \V. V. E. Jacobs, surprised and apprehended 23 Japanese on Laysan and near-by Lisiansky, en gaged in killing the birds. One lot of plumes is supposed to have been shipped before the arrival of the Thetis, yet the wings and other feathers of more than a quarter of a million birds were still stored in the old buildings on Laysan. The vast rookeries had been systemati cally decimated by men armed with clubs. Land cars and the old rail line left by the guano workers had been utilized to bring the spoils to camp for preparation and treatment, and, as usual in llume hunting operations, the ground round about displayed the sad accompaniments of decaying carcasses and dead or starv ing young, among which wandered a few bewildered or crippled birds. Prompt action had, however, saved part of the bird colonies, and, free from further attack, the Albatross and Tern were left to regain something of their former numbers. TIllE RA.BI''T MIAD1)I LAYSAN A DESERT ISLE With danger from plume hunters elim inated, one might suppose that the bird colonies, on this distant bit of American soil would flourish as in ages past, but further tribulation was in store. Dis turbances to the supersensitive adjust ment of Nature's forces through the coming or the temporary presence of civilized man are often strange and unex pected in their appearance and cumula tive effects. As an instance, on Lavsan tremendous damage has been wrought through the agency of the domestic rab bit, an animal that we might consider one of the most inoffensive of man's friends. Some time in 1902 the foreman of the guano works brought to Laysan three or four pairs of rabbits, partly to amuse his children, and partly for the fresh meat that they would furnish. For a time the animals were kept about the houses, but gradually a pair or two wandered away, attracted by broad tracts of grass, succu lent herbage, and protecting shrubs. Rab bit enemies there were none, as cats and dogs were forbidden because of their damage to birds.