© Smithsonian Institution
Location of Ogasawara Islands
Several Bryan’s Shearwaters, thought by many to be extinct, have been found alive on remote islands near Japan.
A New Species
The pelagic (ocean dwelling) bird was first noted in 1963 and thought to be a Little Shearwater (Puffinus assimilis) at the time. DNA analysis conducted in 2011 on the bird collected years earlier confirmed that it was actually a separate species, the first to be found in over 35 years.
The specimen of the bird tested had been found in a burrow among a colony of petrels on Midway Island during the Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program in 1963—but no other confirmed specimens had been found since then until now.
What Do We Know Of This Species?
Bryan’s Shearwater is the smallest of the shearwaters (there are about 22 recognized species) and very little is known about its breeding habits and range Based on the habits of other shearwater species, experts speculate that Bryan’s could range throughout the Pacific Ocean basin and most likely uses nesting burrows on remote islands. To complicate matter further, many shearwaters are nocturnal visitors to their burrows, making them even harder to observe.
Who Found This Newly Discovered Population?
While this most recent news is exciting, it doesn’t really shed much light on these birds other than to confirm their existence in the wild.
Researchers from the Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute in Tsukuba, Japan found six specimens of the species between 1997 and 2011 on the Ogasawara (also known as the Bonin) Islands, an archipelago of over 30 subtropical and tropical islands about 620 miles south of Tokyo. DNA testing recently confirmed the scientist’s suspicions that these birds were Bryan’s Shearwaters. Five of the six specimens were carcasses while the sixth was a live bird that died after several months of attempted rehabilitation. Biologists speculate that more birds survive on uninhabited islands among the archipelago, but have been unable to confirm that to be the case.
And if you’re wondering, the species is named to honor Edwin Horace Bryan Jr. who was the curator of the B. P. Bishop Museum at Honolulu from 1919 to 1968.
We’ll keep you posted if we hear more about the Bryan’s Shearwater, or any other new species. You never can tell what creatures are out there!
Have you encountered any new (to you at least!) species in your neighborhood?
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