Endangered albatross nests in U.S. for first time

WASHINGTON Wed Dec 8, 2010 12:51pm EST

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An endangered species of albatross has been found nesting in U.S. territory -- Pacific Ocean atolls in the Hawaiian island chain -- for the first time, the American Bird Conservancy said on Wednesday.

The Short-tailed Albatross, once thought extinct, has been restricted to only two breeding sites, Torishima and the Senkaku islands in Japan, the Conservancy said in a statement.

It said the discovery of a nest on Kure Atoll and another in Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge "marks a potential turning point for the species."

Kure, the northern-most coral atoll in the world, is at the northwest end of the Hawaiian island chain, some 50 miles from Midway, site of a famous World War Two battle between Japanese and U.S. forces.

Numbering more than a million at one time, the Short-tailed Albatross was thought to have been wiped out by the late 1940s, hurt especially by feather hunting, the Conservancy said.

However, a handful of birds were discovered in the early 1950s and the population has reached 3,000, mostly on Japan's volcanic Torishima.

Experts fear an eruption there could spell fresh disaster for the bird.

"Establishing another secure nesting site is one of the highest priorities for the species' recovery," the Conservancy quoted Jessica Hardesty Norris, director of its seabird program, as saying.

She said the group "hopes to see healthy breeding populations in the U.S. in the near future, either on Kure or Midway Atoll."

(Reporting by Jerry Norton; Editing by Greg McCune)

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