A perilous journey: Seabird runs gauntlet of hazards on 40,000-mile annual trip
by Sheryl Katz
Named for their low, rocking glide with wings seeming to slice the sea, Sooty Shearwaters rack up nearly 40,000 miles a year, flying from nesting colonies near New Zealand and Chile to fishing grounds as far north as Kamchatka, looping a giant figure 8 over the Pacific. Every spring and fall, they make their grueling, month-long journey, flying as much as 550 miles a day, much of it without stopping to eat.
Right around now, flocks of sooties are finishing up their summer vacations feasting in the rich, upwelling currents of the Northern Pacific and are heading south to breed. En route, they’ll run a gauntlet of manmade obstacles in the ocean: fisheries that deplete their prey and snare them with hooks and long lines, drifting continents of trash and noxious industrial spume. Crossing major shipping lanes, they risk getting slimed by oily bilge and clobbered by vessels. Their meals of anchovies and sardines are tinged with contaminants. To top it off, climate change brings warming waters and scrambled wind patterns that can leave them starving.
When they finally reach their breeding grounds in the southern hemisphere, rats and other foreign predators invade their burrows and kill their defenseless chicks. The parents unwittingly feed their chicks plastic. And on top of all that, sooties are a traditional food in New Zealand, where hunters kill hundreds of thousands every year…
(read more: Environmental Health News)
photos: Glen Temple; Scott Shaffer/PNAS; and Quensland NPRSR