A new study finds that the world’s seabird populations have plummeted by almost 70% in just 60 years.
Tuesday 22 September 2015 08.56 BSTLast modified on Tuesday 22 September 201517.50 BST
Every day for sixty million years, seabirds have performed mind-boggling acts of derring-do: circumnavigating the globe without rest, diving more than 200 meters in treacherous seas for a bite of lunch, braving the most unpredictable weather on the planet as if it were just another Tuesday and finding their way home in waters with few, if any, landmarks.
But now seabirds, like so many other species, may have met their match.
Conservationists have long known that many seabird populations are in decline, but a recent paper in PLOS ONE finds the situation worse than anticipated. According to the researchers, seabird abundance has dropped 69.7% in just 60 years – representing the deaths of some 230 million animals.
“I was very surprised with the result, it was considerably greater than I’d expected,” said Edd Hammill, co-author of the paper, with Utah State University. “What we should take away from this is that something is serious amiss in the oceans.”
Ben Lascelles, a Senior Marine Officer with Birdlife International, who was not involved in the study, said he found the research alarming because the decline appeared practically indiscriminate, hitting a “large number of species across a number of families.”
Seabirds, which include any bird that depends largely on the marine environment, comprise nearly 350 species worldwide – an astonishing variety of extreme-loving birds. For example, the indefatigable wandering albatross, which sports the largest wingspan on the planet; the child-sized Emperor penguin, the only bird that breeds during the Antarctic winter; and the tiny storm petrel that practically capers on the water as it feeds – they are named for St. Peter after all.