Bright bits of plastic catch the seabirdsí attention. Mistaking candy wrappers, Styrofoam and twine for food, they gobble so much plastic that 92.5 per cent of the birds studied had plastic pieces in their stomach. The average for the 67 birds was 36.8 pieces, with a total average weight of 0.385 grams per bird. One bird had 454 pieces of plastic in its stomach.
Northern fulmars are common sea birds in northern ocean. They are often mistaken for gulls, though they are more closely related to albatrosses and shearwaters. The birds are known to follow fishing boats, feeding on offal.
Next: “Like the canary in the coal mine”
According to Camille Bains of Canadian Press, the northern fulmars donít regurgitate the plastic bits they pick up. On the one hand, that means they donít pass them on to chicks. Unfortunately, the plastic can stay in their systems and causes blockages or illnesses.
North Sea scientists have been using beached northern fulmars to study plastic pollution for the last thirty years. The new study shows that plastic pollution in the Northwest is similar to that in the North Sea.
Stephanie Avery-Gromm, lead author and graduate student in the University of British Columbiaís Department of Zoology, said:
Like the canary in the coal mine, northern fulmars are sentinels of plastic pollution in our oceans. Their stomach content provides a Ďsnapshotí sample of plastic pollution from a large area of the northern Pacific Ocean.
Karen Barry of Bird Studies Canada, who co-authored the study added:
Beached bird surveys are providing important clues about causes and patterns of sea bird mortality from oil spill impacts, fisheries by-catch and now plastic ingestion.
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Photo 1: Non-food stomach content found in a northern fulmar in the UBC study. (Photo: StephanieAvery-Gomm, UBC); Photo 2: Northern fulmar photo via JAC6.FLICKR via Flickr Creative Commons