Shearwater wreck East coast Tasmania

To: inger vandyke <>
Subject: Shearwater wreck East coast Tasmania
From: Ian May <>
Date: Thu, 19 Nov 2009 21:36:57 +1100
g'Day all

The wreck continues south with thousands of shearwaters floating dead in the ocean along the east coast of Tasmania. Commercial fisherman are reporting dead mutton birds at sea are just about everywhere most saying they have never seen anything like this.

About two weeks ago south of St Helens, I was observing dense rafts of shearwaters at sea apparently feeding vigorously. Vast flocks could be seen across the entire horizon and their numbers must have been into hundreds of thousands. They were swimming, diving and flying rapidly for a few metres and diving again. At various locations in the vicinity, Humpback Whales were thrashing and breaching through the water in the midst of shearwater rafts At the time I was wondering if everything was competing for the same food source. I read somewhere once that some whales do not feed on their southern migration but from what was happening here I wondered how true that could be.

Interestingly the shearwater wreck is now coinciding with a great migration of Humpback Whales. Last Thursday, 12 November from high on the eastern ramparts of the Scamander Tier we watched numerous pods of whales as far as the eye could see, extending from inshore to the horizon for many kilometres from north to south. Some animals were surfacing and breaching occasionally but there were whales right across the field of view out to the horizon for kilometres out to sea. Because they were surfacing only sporadically, we could not estimate numbers accurately There seemed to be at least 50 and perhaps as many as two hundred animals spread out across kilometres of ocean moving south. I now wonder if the rapidly increasing whale populations could be competing with the birds? As we know, Shearwater wrecks are periodic and in the late 1970's following a week of gale force winds, many thousands died at about this same time along the coast of SE SA and the Coorong. At that time, whales were rarely seen from mainland SA. But on this occasion we have not had any recent savage weather.


Ian May
St Helens,  Tasmania

inger vandyke wrote:

Hi All,
I believe this is a cyclical event.  In 2000 I went for a walk along the beach 
at Clifton Rocks in Croajingalong, South Eastern Victoria and saw hundreds of 
dead Short-tailed Shearwaters.  Initially I thought there was a disaster that 
we hadn't heard about but after reading more about it, apparently there are 
records of these events dating back to the 1950's here in Australia.
I am certainly no expert but I believe it has something to do with the birds timing their migration wrong with the change of ocean temperatures on currents. Naturally the cooler water temps bring more food but if there is a sudden burst of warm water I think that means they arrive, expecting cold water and more food, find warm water and nothing to forage on, then die off in their thousands. As Short-taileds don't appear to be generally threatened, I don't believe this is a problem for them as a species but it is certainly worth noting if the frequency of these events could be tied with climatic cycles and they become more common.
While they are a common bird, I would hate to see them suffer a similar demise 
to the Passenger Pigeon if we don't keep an eye out for them.

Inger Vandyke

Natural History Writer and Photographer

Assistant Publicity Officer - Southern Oceans Seabird Study Association (SOSSA)

Mob:  0402 286 437

Date: Thu, 12 Nov 2009 22:22:21 +1100
CC: ; 
Subject: [Birding-Aus] Shearwater wreck Mid-North Coast NSW

Following Chris's report, I was at Farquahar Inlet, just south of Taree, NSW Mid-North Coast on Tuesday 10th November, and counted 111 dead Short-tailed Shearwaters walking the length of the beach along the Little Tern enclosure from the inlet to opposite the beach car entry from the second car park. Also one dead Common Noddy.
And a dead stingray about 45cm wide.

No shearwaters seen out to sea. But at Wallabi Point, two Humpbacks were displaying - looked like a mother and calf as one was much smaller and was breaching one third out of the water, while the larger was mainly bashing the water with its flippers - watched for 10 minutes and left them still at it.
They're washing up dead and dying in Sydney.

From 2 days ago (10 Nov 2009):

Mutton birds just dead tired
10 Nov, 2009 04:00 AM
HARDLY a day goes by without Cronulla lifeguard Cameron Pyett getting asked 
about the dead birds washed up on the beach.
increasing number of dead mutton birds had washed up on the sand in
recent weeks, after perishing on their way home from a long migration.
While some residents have put it down to unusually strong winds for this time of year, the experts say it is nothing new. "It happens every year,'' Mr Pyett said. "But there are usually not as many as I have seen this year.''
The birds generally die of exhaustion while attempting to complete a remarkable 
migratory round-trip of about 15,000 kilometres.
Parks and Wildlife Services officer, Geoff Ross, said this was a
natural event, with the birds flying from Australia to the northern
hemisphere, and back.
"The birds we see now have died on the last leg of their journey heading south 
back to Australian shores,'' Mr Ross said.
they encounter severe weather or have trouble locating sufficient fish
stocks along the way then they will struggle and some will succumb and
eventually wash up on beaches.''
But not all of the birds that
wash up are dead and a WIRES spokeswoman said the service had been
``inundated'' with calls about how to care for exhausted birds.
asked those who found live birds to keep them in a box, away from
predators, and to either take them to a vet or wait until a WIRES
volunteer arrived. She urged people not to feed the exhausted birds or offer them water as it could cause shock. Cronulla Veterinary Clinic took in six ailing birds last week but they were so malnourished none survived.
Call: 13000 WIRES
Mutton bird facts:
- Also known as short-tailed shearwaters, or sea birds
They were hunted by the early Norfolk Island settlers for food and it
is thought this is where the common name "mutton bird'' came from
- Breeds on small Bass Strait islands and Tasmania, then migrates to the 
Northern Hemisphere
- One of the few Australian native birds that is harvested commercially  for 
its feathers, flesh and oil
- They do not come to shore during their migration, often flying 15,000 
kilometres in six weeks.
Do you think there have been more dead birds on the beach this year?


From: "" <>
Sent: Thu, 12 November, 2009 1:09:54 PM
Subject: [Birding-Aus] Shearwater wreck - Vict?

Am after the advice of Victorian list members, especially those visiting the coast or doing pelagic trips.

Has anyone heard about or observed shearwaters sitting in the water close to shore or on beaches recently?

Apparently numbers of Short-tailed Shearwaters have been observed in and around Griffiths Island near Port Fairy recently.

Martin O'Brien
Wildlife Biologist - Threatened Species & Communities Section
Department of Sustainability and Environment
2/8 Nicholson St.,
East Melbourne  3002


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