SOAR has a serious side in its missions to help kids find ways of helping the ocean and watersheds throughout the world. I started on having seen hundreds of albatrosses killed by plastic debris at Pihemanu (Midway Atoll). I was inspired by the questions of young people in Ohio and by USFWS biologists working hard to protect endangered species and damaged habitats.

SOAR has a very fun and tough to define side.....thanks to FRED AND FRIENDS, Project SOAR helps with watershed and ocean workshops throughout the world, and generally makes people smile while they learn some tough stuff about how we treat our rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, and the one ocean on planet earth..........


SOAR introduces young people to ways they can make a difference in their local community and the wider world.

Take advantage by:

1) Invite a SOAR learning kit or bring Ron Hirschi to your school as a guest author or speaker for your organization. Ron has many years experience as an author and as a biologist. SOAR adds another dimension to his list of hands on projects he shares in writing, art, and ecology workshops.

Many schools invite Ron for his work as author of more than 50 nonfiction books, including many with ocean themes. Others bring him to school as a scientist or artist, but the best fit is always when schools use Ron to help them integrate curriculum.

Tom Bates, Principal at Tremont Elementary in Ohio recently said in an interview following Ron's visit, "What stood out to me was how Ron was able to gear his activities and discussion and information so it was meaningful to the students, whether they were in kindergarten or fifth grade."

Be in touch at whalemail@waypoint.com for visit information.

2) SOAR now has a new kit circling the globe along with a Laysan Albatross "Friend of Fred". This duo is packaged with a box full of ideas, activities, information about Papahanaumokuakea, ocean debris, and other materials aimed at sparking new projects related to the sea. Also included is a journal chronicling Fred's adventures, all of which began when kids at Columbus School for Girls (CSG) learned how they could take action to help the ocean.

Currently, this treasured package is in the hands of The Bush School in Seattle.

NOTE: You might also be lucky to receive one of the earlier packages with a FRED and Friend, already traveling. To date, Fred has visited Australia, Switzerland, Israel, England, The Dominican Republic, and many corners of the United States.

30 September 2011


Not Wisdom's Chick, but a Laysan Albatross nearing fledging
Midway Atoll 2009.

Every time I sat down. Each time I tried to photograph or observe,
these young albatross would tug at my shirt or preen.........as if
I was also an albatross.

There are bonds between species..........any of you know how this goes
with a pet dog, cat, or bird...........They love us because we attend to their wishes
and try best as we can to understand their needs.

Even though it has been more than two years since this photo was taken, I feel
 a need to protect these incredible birds. 

As I write this in the early Fall, Laysan Albatross fledglings
are flying over the open Pacific in search of food on their own.
Some might find their way to our coast here in Washington, or down along
Oregon and California.

Imagine their ability to survive in an ocean world now so confused with
so much plastic. And, it seems the news cycle has passed that issue as
we try to find ways of working our way out of economic slumps..........

The baby albatross tugging at my shirt is approaching the age at which
it will return again to Midway this winter...........Hopefully, it has survived.
If so, it will begin a courtship ritual, mate, and raise a young bird to 
perpetuate its species. 

No one will celebrate its life. 
No one will name this bird.
No one will ever see it again as an individual.

And yet, here you are.........I was touched by this bird.
I hope you might be too.   

28 September 2011


Wisdom's 2011 Chick that successfully fledged this summer.
Photo courtesy John Klavitter, USFWS.

This is a beautiful image of a young albatross alllllllmost fully feathered, but
still sporting a bit of juvenile softness, especially up there on the head.

Laysan Albatross chicks hatch at a size roughly the same as your fist.
Two weeks later they are double or triple this as adults feed them
pretty much every day, or perhaps every two days.

The young ones learn to identify their parents as they fight their way out
of the egg, a process that can last half a day or longer. At the same time, adults
identify with their little ones by smell, but maybe there are other clues, such as
behaviors and appearance. Afterall, every Albatross chick does not hatch at the same time, and so,
feathering differences may be clues that help sort out young when adults return
from 1,000 mile or longer feeding flights.

I watched adults soar onto Midway, land, and strut to their chicks as if nothing
could steer them from the correct young one...........This ability to locate also
reinforced by a nest site fidelity. The adult birds nest in the same location for as many
as 6 decades, a fact we know because Wisdom has been raising a chick that long!

When the above photo was taken, Wisdom's chick was still a few weeks away from fledging, an event you may not fully appreciate without seeing in person..........

Adult albatross have these incredible runways around Midway. They walk then run, then lift off FROM LAND.............They take flight like a jumbo jet, quite elegantly.


I watched this take place and it is quite amazing because the young birds take a lot of time to
leave the island........At first, they make their way to the very edge of the sea. On Midway, this means
they pad across sand to a most beautiful turquoise lagoon.......they might hop in the water one morning, only to go back ashore for a time. Next day they might hop in again, but at long last, sometime in July for the most part...........they swim out into the vast lagoon surrounding Sand and Eastern Islands.

The young are occasionally, but not often, preyed upon by Tiger Sharks as they swim away from the
place of birth.

The fledglings swim nearly all the way or even beyond the atoll rim - the remains of the island perimeter..............and with wind assist, lift off after a long swim. I can only imagine they have evolved to do this because the next year or two will find them ONLY at sea. And so, they must have adapted over time to be able to lift off (with a seven foot wingspan) from the ocean surface, not from a runway like that used by adults.

We know Wisdom has been able to feed this young bird without adding a lethal dose
of plastic. We also know, according to John Klavitter, that Wisdom feeds in areas
with a great deal of plastic.

What we do not know is how she avoids the toxic trash.........She does so at a time when
approximatley one million seabirds die each year from this cause of mortality. Keys to
her survival will be unlocked as more and more birds are fitted with Satellite tags
and as more young people find ways of studying birds in the wild.

I can imagine studies of albatross feeding behavior using more
sophisticated devices than exist at present.........How about Apple and Google and
Amazon joining forces to equip Wisdom's little one with a cam so we can
follow this young bird through its own 60 years of life!!!

What will we report at SOAR in the year 2071?
I'll leave that up to you kids. 


26 September 2011


Legbands once worn by Midway Albatross.......Many died
of plastic ingestion........How has Wisdom avoided this fate?...... 

John Klavitter, USFWS biologist, has just confirmed the successful fledging of Wisdom's 2011 chick. Mother and offspring were in the news last spring when they survived tsunami waves that destroyed many other nesting birds on Midway Atoll within Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. Successful fledging means Wisdom and her mate were able, once again, to find and return food to the nesting island where the chick was hatched early this year.

Wisdom, the oldest known wild bird on earth is a Laysan Albatross. She may well hold the key to success in an ocean filled with threats to survival of many kinds.I first learned about her amazing story when visiting Midway in 2009. Since then, FWS and NOAA staff have kept me in touch with Wisdom and other issues within the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, especially those on Midway's nesting grounds.

Wisdom was first banded by Chandler Robbins on 10 December 1956. He estimated she was at least five years old at that time. Since then, Wisdom has been rebanded several times, the last when she was "rediscovered" by USFWS volunteers and staff on 6 December 2006. She now wears stainless steel band number 1517-62900 on her left leg and a red plastic band Z333 on her right leg. These are the same kind bands worn by Fred and Friends in our project to help kids learn more about the ocean and how to protect species like the Laysan Albatross.

Chandler Robbins helped biologists relocate Wisdom after he had returned to Midway in 2002 to band more albatrosses and observe them up close in a setting where more than 800,000 Laysans sit at nests during the January to July on island season. The rest of the year, albatrosses soar across the ocean in amazing journeys that find individuals covering more than a million miles in a lifetime. Birds living as long as Wisdom might clock well over ten million miles or more.........who knows for sure?

When Robbins came back, he was so busy banding, he wasn't aware of the rebanding of Wisdom. But he later noted her presence in his log of band data and when USFWS staff caught up with him in 2006, they learned where he had snapped an identifier on her leg. Resilient, Wisdom was now wearing yet another piece of metal. A great gift to science, she was found in 2006 and fitted with her current Z333.

Laysan Albatross return to the exact location time and time again. They can find their chick by scent in an amazing search starting with a wing set soar as they approach the island...........They only move a nesting site when trouble lurks such as the invasion of obnoxious weeds.  This happens on Midway because of a true pest, Verbesina. I can attest to its tenacity, having pulled many stems while on island in 2009. Thanks to the USFWS and wonderful volunteers, the plants are being removed and replaced with natives that don't hinder nesting success. Verbesina towers over the birds, clogging access to adults coming and going with food for their offspring.

As for Wisdom and her chick.............She has apparently found a way to seek food in the ocean where few pieces of plastic bob and bounce on waves. Or, she is extremely good at distinguishing squid and the eggs of flying fish from bottle caps, strands of rope, and other marine debris. Regardless, she has survived and continues to give birth to chicks that survive to fledge. I am about the same age as Wisdom and marvel at how she can continue..........Our daughter. One child. She is a happy and successful person and I can not for the life of me relate to giving life support for new children every year for more than fifty..............

Think on this. She and her mate flew off the island at Midway from January to July, more or less once a week. Each flight was about a thousand miles round trip. They caught food for themselves and their one chick. They shuffled flights, sometimes stopping on island for a single day, then off again...........Thousands of miles of flying to fetch food in the Bering Sea. Perch on the waves for a time, snatch a squid, shuffle off to Midway..............Feed baby. Fly again...........

After 60 years of life, one would think a bird known as Wisdom would wise up and call it a time for retirement.............It must be in her genes to be one who makes the difference in survival. As any student of ecology knows, it is all about passing along those genes. That and learning in a world of change.  

13 September 2011


These articles recently appeared in journals, including the announcement of a proposed new species! Discovering a new bird on the planet may seem unlikely, but researchers are sure they have found a previously unknown Shearwater, one of the most amazing seabirds. Like Albatrosses, Shearwaters soar out over the ocean, clocking hundreds and even thousands of miles on feeding flights. The new species, Bryan's Shearwater needs attention.............Here is the citation along with two other articles:

Pyle, P., Welch, A.J., and R.C. Fleischer. 2011. A new species of shearwater recorded from Midway Atoll, Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Condor 113 (3): 518-527.

The authors are proposing a new species based on a specimen collected on Midway in 1963. This small shearwater's breeding and nonbreeding ranges are not known and the authors call for more investigation. The ocean is vast and research opportunities like this might call a young scientist to seek information needed to possibly save this bird from disappearing before we know much about it.

Doughty, R.W. 2010. Saving the Albatross: Fashioning an environmental regime. Geographical Review. 100 (2): 216-228.

I have to say I've only been able to read an abstract of this article, but look forward to a trip to the UW library to read more of what Doughty has to say in this review of the history of exploitation as well as  protective efforts meant to save albatrosses, one of the most threatened of all bird groups. Saving Albatrosses is all about saving the world oceans since these birds reflect so many of our impacts, both negative and postive.

Volter, S.C., Archibald, K., Morgan, G., and Morgan L. 2011. The use of plastic debris as nesting material by a colonial seabird and associated entanglement mortality. Marine Pollution Bulletin. 62 (1): 168-172.

Plastics appear in nests of many birds. Check out an Osprey nest in Wyoming or Montana, and you might see some orange baling twine dangling from the stick structure. Out at sea, many birds pick plastic as food, but, as these authors report, Northern Gannets gather great quantities for their nesting material. They studied a Gannet colony at which nests were found to contain an average of about 470g of plastic, mostly rope, for a colony total of more than 18 tons. Yearly entanglement in the colony ranged from 33-109 birds, mainly nestlings. 

As more and more plastics enter the sea, it is not surprising to see birds "repurpose" the material. Most of us can remember photos of those six pack rings entangling sea creatures, including birds, turtles, and marine mammals. Rope tangles wash ashore on all ocean beaches and so,


If you live away from the ocean, help out by cleaning a stream, lake shore, or other waterway. You might be saving an Albatross and removing rope that would otherwise become a hazard for young Gannets!

X310 Plastic Ocean Activity

It's me, Fred, the Monkey.

If you look closely, you can see I wear X310's leg band around my neck. It's to remind me of her. She was a Laysan Albatross. She was born in March 2008 and lived on Pihemanu, one of the most remote atolls on earth, now part of Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.

You can wonder about Pihemanu and about X310. She didn't live very long, dying in June 2008. Her parents flew thousands and thousands of miles finding food for her. But x310, like lots of baby albatrosses died before she got to soar the seas. Some albatrosses fly three million miles during their life. Like X310's parents, their sea is a new challenge in food finding because of our actions on land.

Adult albatrosses fly more than a thousand miles just to get a single meal for their babies. But the ocean is full of plastic. And if you read my buddy, Ron's blog and website, you learn about plastic in the sea. It is everywhere and babies like X310 die because they eat so much plastic, they can not get it out of their stomachs.

Where's all this plastic come from?
Where does it go?

Here is a simple activity:

Get up from your chair and walk around the classroom or wherever you are sitting.

Write down each thing around you that is made of plastic.

Everybody compare lists and make a total of the plastic products.

Now, the hard part of this activity:

Can you find alternatives for the things you use, alternatives not made of plastic?
Maybe start with drinking water from a fountain or glass or reuseable container?
Maybe start a really good recycling project?
Maybe make some art from recycled plastic?
Learn more on links here on this site and others.
Talk about times with no plastic.
X310 would have appreciated if people, just a few years ago had decided to make a plastic-free world for you....
You and X310.

Learn how you can SOAR with FRED by arranging a visit with Fred and his ocean teaching kit by emailing his banana provider at whalemail@waypoint.com


What you need:

Pint size plastic beverage container with wide mouth (about 1.5 inches) ---This approximates the size of a baby albatross stomach and esophagus.

Important to have the lid too.

Enough plastic items (bottle caps, toothbrush, legos, fishing line, small chunks of nylon rope, markers, pens, more bottle caps and even a few more bottle caps since they are pretty much the most common marine debris.

Talk with your audience of kids of any age about ocean debris and the way adult albatrosses fly out a few hundred or even a thousand miles to find flying fish eggs and squid for the little ones. They return to Pihe Manu or up on the Northeast shore of Kauai, find their young one among thousands of others and begin to feed by regurgitating "food".......

As you talk about this, have the kids place one or two pieces of the plastic into the bottle.

Replace cap with each addition of plastic. Shake gently to mimic bird moving around the nesting area a bit.

Remove cap. Shake gently to mimic the bird trying to dislodge "food" that can not be digested. In a perfect ocean, this would be squid beaks, fish bones, or other natural pieces of food.

Add more plastic, repeating above until no plastic falls out of the bottle when cap is removed (bill is opened) and the bird tries and tries, but can not toss up the mass of debris. See how much and how many different kinds of plastic can be added. Does the rope tangle with the legos and bottle caps. Do five bottle caps cause a blockage in the esophagus???

In nature, the upchucked mass is like an owl pellet and is known as a bolus. Natural foods slip freely through the esophagus and more feeding can continue. Most times, a baby albatross will toss up one bolus before leaving the nesting island. Unfortunately, thousands die because plastic blocks the stomach completely.

Your feeding the baby albatross activity can lead to a lot of discussion of plastics we use, discard, then find their way into the ocean and into the mouth of a baby albatross.

If you want to have a Baby Albatross Feeding Kit, complete with some plastic items that actually came from once living albatross at Pihe Manu, Papahanaumokuakea, be in touch.