August 24, 2009

The rats may be gone from Rat Island

Rat Island, Alaska, may get its Aleut name back now that the rats for which it was named seem to be gone, scientists from a polar marine program said.

A $3 million eradication program appears to have rid the island of rats for the first time since the late 1700s, said Steve MacLean, polar marine program director for The Nature Conservancy in Alaska, one of the partners in the eradication program.

A year ago, crews dropped 700 pounds of poison-laced pellets on the island, McClatchy Newspapers reported Monday. No sign of recent gnawing was apparent, MacLean said.

Crews will return in another year to confirm there are no more rats.

The island, named Howadax -- which means entry or welcome in the Aleut language -- was overrun by rats when a Japanese sailing ship wrecked there. MacLean said if no more rats are found, the original name may be restored.

The down side of the program, scientists said, is that more than 250 gulls and bald eagles were found dead on the island, testing positive for the poison. The scientists anticipated gulls would die, but 43 eagles apparently ate dead gulls and were also poisoned. Bald eagles were never endangered in Alaska.