MOLOKAI (KHNL) - 50 wedge-tailed shearwater birds were found dead Wednesday on Molokai. For 10 years, scientists from the Nature Conservancy successfully brought the population of 4 seabirds to more than 400.
The tragedy shocked those who have tried to make the Moomomi Preserve on Molokai a safe haven for these special seabirds.
It's where staff and volunteers from the Nature Conservancy and Department of Land and Natural Resources work to establish a colony of wedge-tailed shear waters.
On Wednesday, a dog was found roaming the area with one of the birds in its mouth.
"The staff went out and they found one dead bird going over a hill, saw several more and then realized that the dog was still in the colony," said Fern Duvall of the Department of Land and Natural Resources.
The seabirds come to this coastal sand-dune ecosystem to breed between March and December.
"The loud courtship noises that they make and the running around trying to find their burrows and find their partners that's probably what attracted the dog," said Fern Duvall.
It's too early to tell how this will affect this successful program.
"I'm too stunned to know what to think right now. I'm just trying to deal with, you know how to move forward and measure this in the future and find out what kind of impact this does have," said Ed Misaki, the Conservancy's Molokai Program Director.
In 1999, the conservancy staff created a year-round predatory control program to protect the birds from cats, mongoose and dogs. They hope the nest count will continue to grow in spite of this setback.
"We're not sure how long it takes birds that lose a partner to repair and if they do so if the bird will be coming back to this particular area to breed again," said Fern Duvall.
The conservancy hopes the loss of these 50 shear-water birds is enough to drive home just one message. People need to be aware that these birds are very vulnerable.