It makes you wonder what kind of person could get pleasure out of torturing and killing defenseless birds and then smashing their eggs and destroying their nests.

That’s what the Department of Land and Natural Resources says happened Dec. 27-28 at Kaena Point, when people went on a rampage, destroying 15 nests of Laysan albatross.

Of the 15 nests, 11 attending adult birds are missing and presumed dead. Body parts of four other birds have been found near their nests. Some had their feet cut off.

Laysan albatrosses at Kaena Point.
Laysan albatrosses at Kaena Point. Lindsay Young, Pacific Rim Conservation

The Department of Land and Natural Resources offered no further information when I called for an update on the case.  Spokeswoman Deborah Ward says the incident is still under investigation. No suspects have been named.

“It’s just disgusting. There is no other word for it. Disgusting,” says Kathleen Pahinui of the killing of the albatrosses.

Pahinui submitted testimony in support of a bill, which won preliminary approval in the Legislature on Monday, funding additional educational specialists and enforcement officers for Kaena Point State Park and Natural Area Reserve.

“It is a lovely place that needs to be protected.” — Kathleen Pahinui

“We need more resources after what happened to the birds,” says Pahinui, a North Shore community leader. “Also more funding for staff to keep four-wheel vehicles on Kaena Point’s roads from tearing up the old aina. It is distressing to see the destruction. Everyone knows the cultural significance of Kaena Point.”

Pahinui, a Waialua resident, has lived on the North Shore for more than 30 years.  Her husband is musician Bla Pahinui.

North Shore State Sen. Gil Riviere is the sponsor of the measure asking for an appropriation to provide more law enforcement at  Kaena Point State Park. The State House has a companion measure.

Sen. Riviere says the slaughter of the albatrosses at Kaena Point was the lightening rod for the bill.

“I think people were stunned by the cruelty, the almost premeditated cruelty,” says Riviere.

The Laysan albatross is a federally protected species under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and also protected under state wildlife rules.

Kaena Point
Hiking Kaena Point takes visitors to the northwest corner of Oahu. Ati Jeffers-Fabro/Friends of Kaena

Riviere hopes his bill will “make something good emerge from the tragic event by refocusing attention on how to better protect Hawaii’s natural resources.”

Riviere says his legislation also has a larger purpose: to draw attention the DLNR’s lack of adequate enforcement officers to protect Hawaii’s natural areas, not just at Kaena Point but across the entire state.

The DLNR has been plagued for years by having too few officers to go after people who damage protected landscapes and harm wildlife.

DLNR spokeswoman Ward says the department has no employees assigned full-time at Kaena Point.  She says only four DLNR enforcement officers and their supervisor are responsible for checking for violations on the entire North Shore from the mountaintops to the ocean.                       

“The albatross case highlights the need for more funding for DLNR in general. There is nothing in place now to keep destruction and wildlife deaths from happening in the future.” — Inga Gibson, Humane Society

State senators agreed that DLNR needs to beef up its enforcement. They  passed the bill out of the Water. Land and Education Committee on Monday with a request for an appropriation of $50,000 to pay for an educational specialist at Kaena and $646,104 for five additional enforcement officers to help increase security at Kaena and all the rest of  Oahu.     

The senators rejected the most controversial part of Riviere’s bill, which was a provision to give DLNR authority to charge entrance fees to Kaena Point. After paying entrance fees, visitors would be required to sign in with proper identification and to receive educational information before they could enter the state park.

Revenue from the user fees was to be used to help pay for hiring additional enforcement officers and on-site educational staff. The DLNR and North Shore community members opposed the fees.

Ati Jeffers-Fabro, the president of the Friends of Kaena, thought fees would have polarized the community, infuriating people who are accustomed to getting into Kaena for free.

Jeffers-Fabro is a longtime resident of Waialua. His organization is dedicated to protecting the state park’s natural beauty. His day job is wetland coordinator for the DLNR’s Division of Forestry and Wildlife.

Dead albatross
A dead albatross in its nest after the December attack. Courtesy of Department of Land and Natural Resources

“Kaena Point is one of the last wild areas on Oahu where you can still see and feel the real, true natural beauty of the island,” Jeffers-Fabro says. “With user fees, it would be difficult to keep this ambience. Everything will become more formal.”

Pahinui also had some reservations about the bill, but says it will “get the conversation going about Kaena and if we do nothing, nothing will happen.”

She thinks a single enforcement officer at Kaena Point, making unannounced patrols, would be a first step to preventing more damage.

“Sometimes that’s all it takes to make people less likely to do things that are illegal,” says Pahinui.

“It is a lovely place that needs to be protected.”

Marjorie Ziegler, of the Conservation Council For Hawaii, strongly supports the bill.

Ziegler says the public was so incensed by the killing of the birds that pledges flooded in for a reward leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the killing and nest destruction.

The reward is currently $10,000, but Ziegler says that if the environmental organizations had continued asking for pledges they could have easily raised more than $20,000 for the reward. 

“People were so outraged,” she says.

The Humane Society of the United States contributed $5,000 of the reward money.

Hawaii Director Inga Gibson says, “We absolutely support the bill for more law enforcement because Kaena is so remote. The existing meager security measures don’t work. The cameras that were damaged by the vandals were not enough to stop anything.”

DLNR says the vandals apparently stole seabird monitoring cameras and sound equipment in the wildlife refuge, which cost $3,100 to replace.

Gibson says, “The albatross case highlights the need for more funding for DLNR in general. There is nothing in place now to keep destruction and wildlife deaths from happening in the future.”

Nesting albatross are a common winter sight at Kaena Point.
Nesting albatross are a common winter sight at Kaena Point. Richard Wiens/Civil Beat

“It is very sad to think we need more law enforcement to protect endangered and threatened species.”

Lindsay Young, the executive director of Pacific Rim Conservation, says she is upset by albatross deaths and nest destruction. Her organization owns the monitoring equipment that was stolen.

Young has studied the albatross colony at Kaena for 13 years and wrote her PhD thesis on it.  “I know each bird as an individual,” she says.

Young says, “There may be a silver lining in Sen. Riviere’s bill. We could get some form of enforcement and protection that’s badly needed. There is absolutely no security in the reserve area now.”

The chain link fence that surrounds the wildlife reserve at Kaena was installed to protect the albatross colony from animal predators such as dogs, cats and rats. People can enter the reserve through its  unlocked gates any time they want, 24/7.

“It is disturbing to hear that teenagers with ties to Punahou, possibly one current student, may have been involved in the incident.” —  Laurel Husain, Punahou School

The law enforcement office of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Honolulu Police Department are working with DLNR on the investigation.

Hawaii News Now reported that the albatross killings at Kaena may have been done by teenagers and that authorities “want to question four students, several who attend Punahou School.”

I called Laurel Husain, communications director of Punahou School, on Friday. Husain confirmed that she sent the following statement to Hawaii News Now:

“We were dismayed by the senseless destruction of the albatross nests in the Kaena Point Natural Area Reserve. This important nesting area and the surrounding reserve are wonderful educational resources for students in Hawaii. It is disturbing to hear that teenagers with ties to Punahou, possibly one current student, may have been involved in the incident. This deplorable act contradicts the values of the School and the respect of our community and the environment that we protect. The school is fully cooperating with the various agency investigations as they gather facts about who was actually involved.”

Husain said Friday that she had not heard anything more about the investigation.

She says Punahou students were saddened to hear about the destruction at Kaena Point, where many of them go for educational purposes.

“What happened is really awful,” says Husain.

Frankly, I have a difficult time thinking teenagers from any high school could be responsible for killing harmless albatrosses. The birds easily win the hearts of human beings because they are unafraid of people. You can walk right up to a nesting albatross and all it is likely to do is clack its bill, as if to gently warn, “Don’t get too close. Be careful of my nest.”

A depiction of the scene from the poem that introduced the concept of an albatross around the neck..
A depiction of the scene from the poem that introduced the concept of an albatross around the neck.. 

Many high school students learn from the “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” written in 1798 by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, that the albatross is a powerful symbol of good luck — and that it can bring terrible misfortune or “bachi” to kill one.

In the poem, a sailor brings to an abrupt end the good sailing conditions his ship has been experiencing when for no reason he fires an arrow from his crossbow to kill a friendly albatross that has taken to following behind the ship.

After the bird’s death, the ship is cursed with terrible, life-threatening storms. The furious crewmembers punish the albatross killer by tying the dead albatross on a rope dangling from his neck.

In the poem, the sailor says: “Ah! well a-day that evil looks Had I from old and young! Instead of the cross, the Albatross About my neck was hung.”

Today the punishment for killing an albatross involves fines and jail rather than the type of shaming described in Coleridge’s poem. Federal penalties can be as high as $15,000 per incident and one year in prison, while state penalties include fines up to $10,000 per incident and up to $5,000 for each animal harmed.

Conservationist Ziegler thinks that if the suspects are young people, then rather than fines and jail their punishment should be thousands of hours of community service at Kaena Point to seek redemption for the harm they caused to the entire 75-nest albatross colony.

“For the young people to learn to pay back, and to be sad and remorseful,” she says.

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