Date: 30 July 2012
Last week a number of dead sea birds washed ashore from Opotiki to Whangaparaoa, and along the coast north of Gisborne. Autopsy results by Massey University have found the cause of death to be starvation.
These broad billed prions (Pachyptila vittata) are normally found off the Otago Coast, Chatham Islands and lower Tasman Sea where upwelling of currents provide a rich source of plankton on which they feed.
Department of Conservation (DOC) Ranger, Biodiversity Threats Anastacia Kirk says it is likely that the prions have been pushed out of their feeding grounds by strong Southerly winds and once away from their normal feeding area, have become fatigued, emaciated and unable to return south.
“Two days of strong Northerly winds averaging 65km/h in the Bay of Plenty may have pushed these birds inland.” “Their efforts to avoid land may have weakened them further.”
A mass mortality of prions occurred on the West Coast of the North Island last year when 250,000 birds died in a severe winter storm. This was the largest recorded beach death of seabirds in New Zealand.
Dead broad billed prions
Graeme Taylor, seabird specialist at DOC says there are an estimated 1 million breeding pairs of broad billed prions around New Zealand. “It remains to be seen if last year’s storm event, and the recent East Coast event will affect the population in the long term.”
Beach users can record any dead birds they encounter on the Ornithological Society Beach Patrol Scheme website at http://osnz.org.nz/beach-patrol-scheme. This information will contribute to the knowledge of seabird distribution, abundance, and the cause of seabird deaths on New Zealand coasts.
John Lucas, phone: +64 6 8690460 or mobile: +64 27 295 7395