Manx Shearwater, Puffinus puffinus in flight


Manx Shearwater, Puffinus puffinus in flight

Photo by: hstiver


New Research Reveals Cause of Death for 3 Million Birds

An estimated 3 million short-tailed shearwaters died along the coast of Australia in 2013. New research suggests humans and the 2012 Harve submarine eruption are to blame.

March 31, 2021

If you didn’t know, seabirds are “widely considered” to be the indicators of the health of a marine ecosystem, according to Forbes. Australia’s national science agency examined the mass death of millions of shearwater birds in 2013. It’s discovered that the seabirds were starving and began to eat “non-food materials” including plastic and floating pumice stones. Because of this, scientists believe this is an indication of larger health issues for the surrounding marine ecosystem.

172 dead seabirds were collected from beaches along New South Wales and Queensland coast to conduct further research into this mass mortality event (MME). Researchers had found that 96.7% of birds had ingested pumice or plastic, Forbes reported.

Scientists studied the 2013 short-tailed shearwaters’ migration from Australia in April to the North Pacific, and their return later in the year. By using satellite systems, scientists were able to correlate that part of their migration crossed paths with the pumice raft produced by the 2012 Harve submarine eruption in the Kermadec arc north of New Zealand, Forbes added. Pumice is created from a combination of high-temperature and highly pressurized lava that’s “violently ejected” from a volcano. It creates an “unusual foamy configuration due to the simultaneous rapid cooling and depressurization,” creating bubbles in the lava.

Very rare shearwater, endemic to New Zealand.


Very rare shearwater, endemic to New Zealand.

Photo by: Imogen Warren

Imogen Warren

As shearwaters headed back to Australia from their migration from the North Pacific, the floating pumice from the Harve eruption was along their flight path. Forbes commented, "this was also supported by the chemical composition of the pumice recovered in the bird guts, matching the lava of the Havre seamount. The animals ingested small pebbles of pumice, dying 12 to 41 hours later.”

It’s hypothesized that because the shearwaters were starving they “instinctually” ingested the pumice pebbles, which theorizes additional environmental issues as a result of the MME. According to Forbes, MME’s can indicate changing food webs and ecological conditions. The conclusion provided by the researchers suggests that a combination of climate change, marine pollution and over-exploitation of resources by humans were major contributors impacting the quality of life of marine animals.

Next Up

The World’s Deadliest Bird Used to be a Pet

Scientists found cassowary eggshells in New Guinea showing the lethal bird was being domesticated 18,000 years ago.

The California Condor Comeback Story

When I first moved to California in the late-1990s, the California condor was something I always remember hearing about from wildlife enthusiasts.

Are The Birds Getting Louder?

From the pages of The Explorers Journal, contributing editor Nick Smith gets to the bottom of a global pandemic phenomenon.

Lion Queens of India

How Asiatic lionesses save their cubs, by playing the field.

Are Whale Sharks Now the World’s Largest Omnivore?

A new study finds that whale sharks are the biggest omnivore, disproving previous research on whale sharks’ diets. Researchers were stunned when analyzing whale shark biopsy samples that contained lots of plant material as well as krill material.

Do Dolphins Have a New Skin Care Routine?

A new study on Indo-Pacific bottle-nosed dolphins reveals that pods might rub themselves on coral as a way to keep their skin healthy.

Giant Pandas are No Longer Endangered

After decades of work trying to save the giant panda, Chinese officials have announced the species is no longer endangered.

An Inspiration for All: Rosie the Penguin

Rosie the Riveter, meet your adorable present-day inspiration, Rosie the penguin from the OdySea Aquarium in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Condors are Missing in California’s Wildfire Blaze

A conservation success story in California has taken a turn for the worst following the catastrophic blazes that have swept the state over the past month.

Twin Red Panda Cubs Born at Chester Zoo

In June, twin red pandas were born at England’s Chester Zoo as part of its endangered species breeding program, and they are as adorable as ever! After nine weeks in their nest boxes, these cubs passed their health checkup, which is great news in the animal world as there are less than 10,000 in the wild.

Related To: