Weekly Dose of Cute: Baby Tern

The Hawaiian archipelago has a lot of amazing and adorable creatures. Here's a great shot of a baby white tern, or Manu-o-ku, c/o my lab mate Tonatiuh. It was taken by National Geographic explorers in 2005 while they were in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

When people think of Hawaii, they think of the 8 main islands where people live, but the archipelago stretches another 1,200 miles and includes many islands and atolls with vibrant coral reefs and amazing wildlife. This area is so special it's practically off limits to everyone but scientists, protected by NOAA's National Marine Sanctuary program. The protected area, called the PapahÄnaumokuÄkea Marine Monument is huge - almost 140,000 square miles. For comparison, the entire state of California covers an area of about 163,000 square miles. It's bigger than the Great Barrier Reef, or all the national parks combined. You can learn more about the over 7000 native species of fish, turtles, marine mammals, and seabirds at the sanctuary's site.

White Terns (Gygis alba rothchildi), or "Fairy Terns" as they are often called, are beautiful all-white seabirds with black rings around their eyes. They feed primarily on fish caught by diving at the water's surface. While they have to return to land daily, they can fly as far as 120 miles from shore. They grow to about a foot in length, and are found on many of the subtropical islands in the Pacific and Indian oceans. This little fledgling would have been incubated by both its parents, who take shifts for the 36 days it takes for the baby to develop. Interestingly, these birds do not build nests, instead an egg is laid in some natural nest-like depression. Approximately 7,500 White Terns breed on the Midway Islands, part of the PapahÄnaumokuÄkea Marine Monument.

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