Sunday, 1 December 2013

Seabird die--off in Australia and New Zealand

Why, in God's name, do I have to read this In a foreign publication?! Why does it not feature promionently in the NZ media?
Up to 5 million seabirds likely to have died on Australian and New Zealand beaches
Concerns raised over number of dead birds on Coast beaches

30 November, 2013

Lindsay Dines has been watching dead mutton birds wash in at Teewah for more than a month.

He knows death is part of their migratory fate

Their long, figure eight of the Pacific that starts in Tasmania, touches the northern hemisphere Aleutian Islands and then California before the long journey home.

But Lindsay fears something more is at play.

The avid fisherman and environmentalist has deep concerns about the numbers dying.

I’m told that a month ago a count was done by someone - 25,000 between Noosa North Shore and Caloundra,” he said.

And there are media reports of dead birds extending from Bundaberg to southern coast of Victoria, plus Tasmania and the New Zealand’s west coast – in abnormally large numbers and along all beaches creating great concern in communities all along the coast..

All birds tested by vets were found to be emaciated and starving.”

Given the range of the death and numbers being reported, Mr Dines fears as many as five million birds may have died. 

When conditions are calmer, they seek out baitfish herded to the surface by tuna and other predatory fish.

Feeding on migration is essential and is totally dependent on there being both predatory fish and baitfish along the migratory path,” Mr Dines said.

This year has been different to past mass deaths.

The shearwaters are frantically trying to feed inshore in large numbers before they land on the water in the surf or not far beyond and wash in mostly alive.

There are insufficient predatory fish present inshore to herd the baitfish for the shearwaters to feed.

I’ve been watching all seabirds, including shear waters over the last few months constantly searching for food, but they are rarely finding any.”

University of Canberra’s Professor Nick Klomp, now deputy vice-chancellor for education, spent 20 years researching short-tail shearwaters (mutton birds).
He said Mr Dines’ theory might well be true but it needed further research.

Prof Klomp said shearwaters that had successfully completed their annual migration were now laying eggs at their breeding grounds in southern NSW, Victoria and the islands off Tasmania.

He said there was no doubt impact of environmental factors could lead to more deaths than normal.

TOO MANY DEAD: A mutton bird washed ashore

We may have to go back to 2011 to get coverage of this in NZ. I believe it to be swept well-and-truly under the carpet. At least half of this article is full of what a delicacy muttonbirds are. Subsequent to this article it turned out that 33% didn't make it back to NZ.

Potentially radioactive muttonbirds nesting in NZ
There are fears radioactive muttonbirds could be on their way to New Zealand after the migrating birds were found to have been feeding close to Japan's ruptured Fukushima nuclear plant.

22 December, 2011

Niwa scientists, who in 2005 attached tracking devices to 19 muttonbirds, also known as sooty shearwaters, found nearly half of them were spending months at a time feeding off the coast of Japan.

US researchers have requested samples of dead muttonbirds so they can be analysed, with the expectation that some of them will have absorbed the radioactive isotope Caesium-137, an element that strongly increases the chances of getting cancer.

Te Papa's curator of terrestrial vertebrates Colin Miskelly said it was unclear what effect this would have on the birds.

"When they're in the North Pacific the main thing they're doing metabolically is replacing all their feathers because birds' feathers wear out.

"As their feathers grow they will be incorporating the chemicals of the environment where they're feeding and so it's expected that in this case Caesium-137 will be present, but whether that translates to anything that would be passed on to their eggs or their chicks is another question."

Dr Miskelly said muttonbirders had been concerned ever since the Fukushima plant started leaking radiation after Japan's magnitude 9 earthquake in March.

"I happened to have spent some time on two muttonbird islands within a few weeks of the disaster and the muttonbirders even then were discussing what this would mean for their Titi (muttonbirds). I'm sure that it's a frequent topic of conversation for them now."

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF), which is charged with leading New Zealand's biosecurity system, said it took the potential for contamination of foods with radioactive material very seriously.

"However, we have no information at this time to suggest that muttonbirds might be significantly exposed to radioactive contamination due to this incident.

"MAF continues to monitor any new information that might cause us to change our advice to people about eating muttonbirds."

Muttonbirds are considered a delicacy to many.

Eleanor Russell, whose family has been catching muttonbirds in Foveaux Strait for generations, had not heard of the potential threat but said it would affect muttonbirding if there was any truth to it.

"It is alarming that they've been going there (Fukushima) but I think until we've got the research through I don't think anyone will take stuff like that on board."

Rakiura (Stewart Island) Maori, are the only people who have rights to gather muttonbirds on 36 islands, known as the Titi Islands, around Stewart Island. They can harvest chicks each year from April 1 to May 31.

Ms Russell said people either loved or hated muttonbird's oily meat, known for its overwhelming smell when cooked.

"Some people tell you to cook it outside on their barbeques and not to cook it in the house. We cook ours inside because we love muttonbirds, but a lot of other people won't even come into the house when the smell hits them."

Ms Russell said the best way to cook mutton birds was simply to put them in a pot and boil them with vegetables.

Others says it's best to boil them in a pot with a rock for six hours, drain the water, throw out the bird and eat the rock

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