A Japanese shipwreck in 1780 led to the introduction of rats to this island on the Aleutian Chain. The rats thrived, and by 1827 when Russian Captain Fyodor Litke visited the Aleutian Islands, the rats had so overwhelmed the island that he gave it the rather obvious name of “Rat”.
With no trees, the ground nesting birds had no chance, and the island became barren and silent. Even sea urchins who came upon shore were devoured, and the rats ended up going cannibalistic to survive.
In 2008, several conservation groups teamed up with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to eradicate the rats. The island was bombarded with 46 metric tonnes of rodenticide. By 2010, the island had been declared rat free.
The sea birds quickly returned, and now they are once again thriving 233 years after the rats took over the island.
The island has officially been renamed Hawadax Island, using the Aleut word for “entry” and “welcome”.
Hawadax Island, which is unpopulated and covers just over 10 square miles of surface area, lies within the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. There are currently 16 other islands in the Aleutain Chain with invasive rat populations.
There were casualities other than the rats. 46 bald eagles were found dead on the island after the poison drop. Of the eagles tested, 75% had lethal levels of the rodenticide brodifacoum. Also found were 320 seagull carcasses and 54 carcasses representing 25 different species of birds.
Rats are not native to Alaska, and the 1780 shipwreck is the first known introduction of the species to the state. The State of Alaska has very aggressive anti-rat policies in an effort to limit the invasion of the species. In the city of Anchorage, which is still believed to be rat-free, it is illegal to possess any kind of rat, outside of research facilities which have to apply for a permit.
Photos courtesy of Island Conservation