Biologists on the mid-Pacific atoll were concerned that she had become one of thousands of albatrosses killed by the same tsunami that claimed thousands of human lives and caused widespread devastation in Japan nearly two weeks ago.
Celebration is tempered by that enormous human tragedy, but to biologists and the many bird enthusiasts who have traveled to Midway to witness the unique spectacle that is the albatross nesting season, Wisdom's return is worth celebrating.
The March 11 tsunami was devastating to avian wildlife at Midway, which is the world's largest nesting ground for the Laysan albatross. It's seasonal home to perhaps half-a-million breeding pairs, and during the spring albatross chicks are so abundant that the few people allowed on Midway -- travel is restricted to small groups -- literally have to step around them.
At least 110,000 Laysan and black-footed albatross chicks and 2,000 adult albatrosses perished when tsunami surges swept over portions of the atoll's three islands. (No human lives were lost.)
Barry Stieglitz, project leader for the Hawaiian and Pacific Islands National Wildlife Refuge Complex, said biologists are in awe of Wisdom and her ability to endure.
While this is uplifting news, the staff at Midway is still on the lookout for the parents of the atoll's other avian "celebrity": the first short-tailed albatross to have been born at Midway.
The chick was hatched on Eastern Island, which experienced an 80%wash-over during the tsunami. The straggly chick took a 100-yard tumble but was carefully delivered back to its nest and is obviously hungry.
Adult albatrosses are known for their long oversea journeys, though, and the parents could still be hunting for food. However, hopes for a happy ending to this story diminish with each passing day. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages Midway, generally lets nature take its course, but is "carefully considering" hand-rearing the chick if the parents don't return soon.
-- Pete Thomas
-- Top image shows Wisdom, a 60-year-old albatross, feeding her chick after a celebrated return to Midway Atoll. Credit ©U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service