As we walk along Pottsville beach, it’s shocking to see the pristine sand dotted with dead seabirds. Already the wind has swept a soft layer of sand across their emaciated bodies…
Other beachgoers are curious but keeping their distance. What are they? Have they been poisoned? Is it the dreaded bird flu that’s killed them?
A closer look reveals these are short-tailed shearwaters, similar or possibly the same as those we saw on a recent trip to Bruny Island in Tasmania.
Every year, these valiant world travellers make marathon migratory journeys from Alaska, Siberia and other distant shores to breed from September to April in colonies along Australia’s southeast coastline.
Along the way, shearwaters ‘raft-up’ at sea to rest and feast on fish and other tasty seafood like krill, squid, plankton, crustaceans and molluscs. But keeping up the carbs for their epic journey is a feat in itself.
By the time they reach Australia’s east coast, often flying in 6,000 kilometre stages, they have lost up to half their body weight and are in need of some serious rest and rejuvenation.
Imagine an 80kg human running 16 million kilometres non-stop, and you have some idea of the distance these birds have travelled compared to their body weight.
Like all migratory creatures, they are driven to continue their journey. And every year, emaciated and too exhausted to feed or take flight again, many are washed up along our beaches.
This year, the start of spring may as well have been the beginning of summer here, with unseasonal hot, dry winds fanning sparks into wildfires in eastern Australia. The shearwaters would have hit those relentless hot winds head on…
It’s sad to see their bodies strewn along the beach. But it’s comforting to know that many of them have already reached their destination and are taking some well-earned R&R before they kick into some serious breeding and baby shearwater rearing…