Friday, May 4, 2012

The Wellington - A Whaler that Brought Mosquitoes to Hawaii in 1826

Whales were not hunted for food, but primarily for their blubber; the thick layer of fat under their skins that protected them from the freezing cold waters of the far north seas.

Oil could be extracted from the blubber and used to make candles or for burning in oil lamps in the days before electric lights.

Whale oil was very valuable and some whale ship owners made huge fortunes from selling the oil.

When the whale was caught it was towed back to the ship where it was "flensed" (cutting away the blubber.)

The blubber was hoisted onto the ship’s deck where it was put into barrels and then stored away in the hold.

In 1826, a whaling ship, the Wellington, arrived at Lahaina, Maui from San Blas, Mexico.

They had had an unsuccessful trip, so their barrels were still full with water instead of blubber.  Mosquito larvae were in their water barrels.

Seeking fresh water, the crew dumped the mosquito infected water in a river and refilled the barrels; so they unwittingly introduced the mosquito to Hawaii.

The rest is history – so has it been for Hawaiʻi’s native birds.

Sure, mosquitoes are annoying to us (and they can be vectors for things like dengue and other diseases that affect humans.)

But, they are devastating to Hawaiʻi’s native birds.

Introduced mosquito-transmitted diseases, avian malaria and avian pox, are thought to be one of the main factors driving loss of native forest birds.

Many of Hawaii's native birds suffered drastic population declines once introduced mosquitoes began transmitting avian malaria between birds.

Look closely at the picture of the ʻApapane bird – there is a mosquito on the upper-right side of its eye (not a good thing.)

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