In late February 2014, back to back severe winter storms caused a large scale seabird stranding event along the European Atlantic seaboard. A mass ‘wreck’ was recorded along the West coast of France where some 28,000 dead or weakened stranded seabirds were recorded. Smaller numbers were found in other European countries with Atlantic coastlines. In order to ascertain the extent of this stranding event in Ireland, BirdWatch Ireland put out a call for people to send on records of any stranded seabirds they encountered around the country during the winter of 2013/2014.
As a result of this request we received more than 150 reports totaling over 330 individual stranded seabirds across 14 counties between December 2013 and March 2014, most of which were found in the south between counties Kerry and Wexford. Over 75% of the birds recorded were auks (Guillemot, Razorbill, Puffin, Black Guillemot and Little Auk).
Typical example of a deceased, stranded Puffin © Lucy Weir
Through the recovery of ringed birds found among the mass ‘wreck’ in France, we know that some of the birds involved (particularly Guillemots and Razorbills) originated from Irish colonies such as Great Saltee and Puffins from Skellig Michael. Further evidence suggests that species such as Black Guillemot were affected by this event with some Irish Sea colonies such as Rockabill showing a 42% reduction in numbers of breeding pairs present during summer 2014.
With the first severe storm of winter 2014/2015 having just hit the West coast of Ireland this week, BirdWatch Ireland are renewing the appeal for records of stranded seabirds over the coming days, weeks and months.
As many of the following details as possible would be greatly appreciated:
(2) Location (with a Grid Reference if possible: www.gridreference.ie)
(3) Species involved (taking pictures can prove very useful for identification)
(4) Numbers involved
(5) Presence of any ringed birds (metal or coloured rings on the birds legs with details of codes if noted)
(6) General state of the bird (i.e. alive, dead, weak, alert, oiled, entangled in litter etc.)
Please send details of any stranded seabirds you have encountered to the BirdWatch Ireland seabird team at firstname.lastname@example.org
If any live seabirds are found which may require rehabilitation then please consult the Irish Wildlife Matters website (www.irishwildlifematters.ie) for guidance and details of any listed vets or rehabilitators in your area which may be able to help. The Oiled Wildlife Response Network may also be able to help (e-mail: email@example.com).
Please refrain from searching for stranded seabirds along the coast in dangerous storm conditions.
In addition, a PhD student from GMIT is also requesting samples of stranded seabirds:
GMIT marine researcher Heidi Acampora (pictured below) is looking for help from the public to identify and/or collect any dead seabirds in their locality so she can use them in her PhD research.
Her research assesses the impact of marine litter on seabirds, as they are especially vulnerable to items discarded in our seas.
- Seabirds mistake marine litter for food when searching for prey on the surface of the sea, as debris such as plastics are buoyant
- These pieces of plastic can be particularly hard to regurgitate for some species, and they tend to accumulate them in their stomach
- This leaves no space for real food, leading the animal to starvation
Beached birds can also be used as a good environmental tool reflecting the health of our waters. In fact, they have been heavily used as indicators of good environmental status throughout the North Sea, under the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD).
Heidi's project intends to open the way for Ireland to use seabird stranding to comply with monitoring targets under the EU MSFD, and to acquire knowledge and be able to advise on marine litter in our waters.
What can you do?
If you can identify or collect beached, stranded or bycatch seabirds, or wish to find out more about this project, please contact Heidi using the details below:
GMIT, Dublin Road, Galway
Tel: 086 361 5575