Kumu Sabra Kauka is seen here about to release an ‘a‘o, or Newell’s shearwater. Photo courtesy of DLNR

The annual E Ho‘opomaika‘i ‘ia na Manu ‘A‘o (A Cultural Release of the Native Newell’s shearwater) event was not slowed down by the COVID-19 crisis this year. Instead of having school children attending, the ceremony was filmed instead so that a wider audience could view it virtually, according to a news release by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

The event was organized by the Kaua’i Endangered Seabird Recovery Project and the Save Our Shearwaters program. Kumu Sabra Kauka of Island School led the blessing as five ‘a‘o (Newell’s shearwater) fledglings that had been grounded by light attraction and rescued by SOS were successfully released out to sea.

“Because of the global pandemic, we couldn’t have school children attend the release this year, which was a real shame as their enthusiasm and joy at seeing the birds up close is such an integral part of it,” said Dr. André Raine, of KESRP. “However, we hope that by sharing the footage of the blessing and the birds being released more people will be able to participate in this special day and learn about the challenging journey these birds take when they leave their mountain burrows for the very first time.”

Kumu Sabra Kauka, who led the blessing, said releasing an aʻo to the sky and watching it fly out over the ocean with their blessings is always a deep honor.

“The birds have always been an important part of our ‘aina and have helped to shape Kaua‘i over the millennia,” Kauka said.

Every year, the SOS project rehabilitates both ‘a‘o and u‘au (Hawaiian petrels) that are either injured by powerline collisions or attracted to artificial lights on the island of Kaua‘i. Both species have suffered severe declines on Kaua’i in recent decades – studies by KESRP have shown that between 1993 and 2013 the island’s population of ‘a‘o declined by 94 percent and u‘au by 78 percent.

In October, light attraction becomes a particular concern for ‘a‘o. This is the peak month when young ‘a‘o are leaving their burrows for the first time and heading out to sea. After ‘a’o fly from their burrows in the remote mountain areas in which they breed, they get attracted to the bright lights of the towns — which they circle until they end up exhausted and grounded. If they are not rescued by concerned members of the public, they become easy prey for the large numbers of cats and dogs on the island or are run over by cars. Many are never found. The fall-out season runs from the end of September to mid-December.

Molly Bache, Program Coordinator for SOS, highlighted the ways in which members of the public can help.

“At this time of year, everyone can help – both making sure that unnecessary lights are turned out and by keeping an eye out for fallen birds. If birds are found, they should be carefully collected and placed in one of the aid stations located at Kaua‘i County fire stations and other locations around the island, where they can be collected by the Save Our Shearwaters project staff,” Bache said.

KESRP is a joint project between the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife project and the Pacific Co-operative Studies Unit of the University of Hawai‘i. SOS is a DLNR project housed at the Kaua‘i Humane Society and financially supported by the Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative.

KERSP & SOS Program Shearwater Blessing October 2020 from Hawaii DLNR on Vimeo.

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