By Stewart Janes / for the Mail Tribune
Posted Jan 26, 2018 at 12:01 AM
A chill breeze numbed the cheeks, but it could have been much worse. We were 30 miles off the Oregon Coast on a December day. The ocean was a little choppy, but I didn’t expect glassy seas. The sun even shone brightly at times.
We paused to chum with popcorn and beef fat to bring in scattered seabirds. A raft of assorted gulls, fulmars and about 20 black-footed albatrosses had gathered for the feast when a voice announced firmly “short-tailed albatross.”
The boat tipped slightly to port as the 30 or so birders strained to see a bird once thought extinct. As of 2003, it had been seen a total of three times in Oregon. We needn’t have rushed. The bird with the seven-foot wingspan came in close, made three or four leisurely passes on its long narrow wings before heading off to the horizon.
Adult short-tailed albatrosses are white with dark wings and a yellow wash on the head that gives them the affectionate name of “golden goonie.” This was a young bird, all brown with a large, pink bill.
The short-tailed albatross, once the most abundant albatross in the North Pacific, was hunted to near-extinction by Japanese plume hunters in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They nested on Torishima and nearby islands. By the time the Japanese government put a stop to the killing in the 1930s, many thought it was already too late.