Why Seabirds Love To Gobble Plastic Floating In The Ocean
A great shearwater flies off the coast of Tasmania.
says it stinks up the place. It's actually a chemical scream. As he describes it, "The algae are sort of crying out, saying 'Oh my gosh, we're being eaten and can someone please help me.' "
That might sound ridiculous but, in fact, help does come — in the form of birds. When seabirds like shearwaters smell that chemical, they know it means tasty krill are in the water. "Think of it as like a dinner bell," Savoca says. "So if we heard a dinner bell ringing, the dinner bell would signify where we could find food. "
Marine ecologist at the University of Toronto says that, obviously, eating plastic isn't good for the birds — it's made with some harmful chemicals that aren't meant to be eaten. But the plastic also picks up other chemicals in the ocean that make it even nastier.
"Plastic is a sponge for a lot of the chemicals that are in oil and the chemicals that are washing off from different sources, like pesticides and flame retardants and other industrial pollutants," Rochman says.
Poisoning birds is a problem. But Rochman and Savoca say biologists suspect that other marine animals, such as fish, also could be eating the plastic for the same reason — and that could have consequences not just for fish, but for people who eat them, as well.