KAENA POINT, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - State and federal officials are investigating the deaths of three Laysan albatrosses and the destruction of at least 15 albatross nests at Kaena Point Natural Area Reserve.
A resident reported the deaths Monday. State officials investigated and concluded that humans are most likely to blame.
A site visit Tuesday found 15 nests with smashed or missing eggs.
"When we found the body, it was just horrible, it was a horrible thing," said Hawaiian monk seal advocate Kimo Smith, who found the dead bird during one of his daily hikes into Kaena Point on Monday.
"Then we found the nest and another body we just hiked out already we couldn't stand it."
Twelve of the adults linked to those nests were missing, and three were found dead. Officials said albatross don't leave eggs unattended so the disappearance of 12 adults was called "suspect."
"This is a significant setback to the nesting success of the colony, as these birds are very long-lived," said Marigold Zoll, natural area manager for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
Thomas Friel, head of DLNR's enforcement division, said several of the birds had their feet cut off, most likely with a blade.
"It was in such a way that we believe it not to be predation from wild animals, but rather from humans," he said.
The entire sanctuary is enclosed by a fence, making it difficult animals like dogs to get in.
"It's very unusual to find a dead albatross adult out there," said Marigold Zoll of the state Division of Forestry and Wildlife. "We find chicks that don't make it every once in a while, but since the colony has been growing, we've only ever found three adults (dead)."
"At first we thought it was predators but ... when we found the other ones and saw what that site looked like I guess it had to be some kind of human act," said Smith, who discovered the dead birds.
"Animals can't bury a full grown albatross."
The state also discovered that seabird monitoring cameras and sound equipment worth about $3,100 had gone missing.
One of the monitoring cameras that was not taken took a video of a man walking in the sanctuary the night before the dead birds were discovered.
DLNR officials are disheartened by the deaths of the birds, which are federally protected.
"The seabirds, in particular the albatross, have been rebounding, the populations have been growing. And this is a serious setback for that effort," said DLNR Chair Suzanne Case.
The state is working with U.S. Fish and Wildlife and police on the investigation. The three carcasses found were taken from the site to determine cause of death.
Anyone with information is urged to call 643-DLNR. The killer could face a federal penalty up to $15,000 per incident and a year in prison. There's also a state penalty up to $10,000, and another $5,000 per animal.
Wildlife conservation groups and concerned citizens are also offering a $10,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest and conviction in the case.