Every year, sea birds fill the Midway Atoll with their nests, awaiting the arrival of their chick. The Laysan albatross, one of the birds who brood there, spends 90% of its life at sea or in the air. They usually live between 12-40 years, but scientists know of at least one who is almost 70-years old. Her name is Wisdom, and this year (2018), she’s just laid her 40th egg.
In 1956, biologist Chandler Robbins worked banding albatrosses so they could be identified later for research. He banded Wisdom, who at the time was older than five years. Robbins and Wisdom parted ways. Amazingly, they met again in 2002, almost 50 years later. That meant Wisdom was at least 51 years old.
In 2006, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found her again and knew she was special. They committed to keeping a closer eye on her, so she gave her another band that would make her easier to spot. Every year since, she’s flown to Midway Atoll and laid an egg. She and her mate, named Akeakamai, take turns sitting and finding food.
Wisdom’s life has been full of excitement. In 2011, she survived a tsunami that hit Midway Atoll, and killed thousands of other birds. In 2015, she lost an egg, which was most likely taken by predators. In 2016, 2017, and this past February, Wisdom hatched chicks. Most albatrosses have one egg per laying season, so Wisdom has most likely laid 40 eggs in her lifetime.
Albatrosses like Wisdom face challenges from climate change and ocean population, like all animals. Because the birds find food from the ocean’s surface, they are most likely consuming plastic in addition to squid or fish eggs. They will bring the food to their chicks, as well, endangering the next generation.