Albatrosses killed by mercury

This video is called The mating dance of the Blackfooted Albatross on Midway Atoll.

From the BBC:

18 April 2011 Last updated at 21:07 GMT

Feathers tell century-plus tale of mercury pollution

By Richard Black Environment correspondent, BBC News

Albatross feathers from museum specimens have allowed scientists to construct a record of mercury pollution dating back more than 100 years.

The feathers, from the black-footed albatross, contain traces of mercury that the birds picked up when they fed.

The species is endangered; and although fishing is the main cause, the team suggests mercury levels may have been high enough to impair breeding.

The study is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The team analysed feathers from 54 birds kept in museums at Harvard University and the University of Washington in Seattle, US.

The oldest samples are 120 years old.

There was no trend in overall mercury concentrations over time.

But the level of methylmercury – a toxic form of the metal, formed often by bacteria, did show a rise.

Methylmercury is easily absorbed by marine lifeforms such as small fish; and predators of those lifeforms, such as birds, can end up with big concentrations in their tissue.

It can cause developmental defects in humans, and there is evidence that it can damage reproduction in birds and fish.

“People have looked at mercury levels using museum specimens before, but mostly in the Atlantic,” said Scott Edwards, a biology professor at Harvard who also curates the university museum’s ornithology collection.

“Ours is one of the first to look at patterns in the Pacific basin; this has the largest number of seabird colonies, has the most endangered colonies, and is under severe threat from mercury emissions from Asia.” …

Like many species of albatross, the black-footed – found only in the northern Pacific Ocean – has been badly affected by longline fishing, where vessels trail lines of hooks tens of kilometres long behind them, the hooks baited to attract high-value predatory fish such as tuna and marlin.

The bait also attract albatrosses and turtles, and longlining is a leading cause of mortality in both, though a number of countries have introduced legislation mandating the use of hooks that are safe for turtles and birds.

Native seabirds such as the Laysan Albatross and Wedge-tailed Shearwater will benefit from a just-completed predator-proof fence that creates a 59-acre area exclosure at Ka’ena Point Natural Area Reserve located at the northwest tip of the island of O’ahu, Hawai’i: here.

An endangered Short-tailed Albatross was killed by a longline fishing boat off the coast of Oregon in April 2011, according to a report recently released by the Pacific Fisheries Management Council: here.

“We know more about the journeys of albatrosses in the Southern Ocean than we do about some of the seabirds around our own shores,” said Dr Ellie Owen, a seabird scientist working on a European Union-funded project to track the movements of seabirds along the Atlantic coastlines of the UK, Ireland, France, Spain and Portugal: here.

A new global estimate of the impact of longline fisheries on seabirds reveals that, despite efforts to reduce seabird deaths, upwards of 300,000 birds are still being killed every year: here.

Midway’s first Short-tailed Albatross chick survives tsunami to fledge: here.

8 thoughts on “Albatrosses killed by mercury

  1. Plant boss seized for lead pollution

    CHINA: The boss of a battery plant in eastern China was detained today after more than 300 people, including 99 children, were sickened by lead pollution.

    Fifty-three people were hospitalised after tests found that 332 residents in Deqing, near a factory making lead-acid motorcycle batteries, had elevated levels of lead in their blood, according to a statement released by the local government.

    Most were workers at the Zhejiang Haijiu Battery Co or members of their families.


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