Every so often, we come across an unpleasant sight on our beaches. A dead seabird, usually a gull. We always take photos, but at home, I delete them; they are too sad to share. I changed my mind; here is a gull we found a couple of days ago.
|Found just above the high tide line. No visible injury.|
|Recently dead; the eye is still bright, the surrounding flesh, pink.|
I have seen a few live gulls with broken wings or injured feet, but the ones we find dead have uniformly seemed uninjured. What killed them?
The most likely culprits are the plastic bags and/or other plastic debris left on the beaches by human beach visitors. As I walk on the beach, we collect any bags we see, and take them to the nearest - accusingly near! - trash can. This last time, I filled a grocery bag (also found on the sand) with other bags, plastic cups, and even a broken toothbrush.
Gulls are particularly vulnerable to this abandoned trash. When I was a kid, I watched a gull on our beach down a huge pile of fish guts. The mass was all connected, and the gull had to struggle and strain to get it all down. I was astounded when he succeeded. Even an entire grocery bag is more maneuverable and smaller than that; the sheer difficulty of swallowing it would not be a deterrent. Lying in water, half-buried in sand, the bags look surprisingly like bits of fish skin, or jellyfish. They even smell like food, as often as not.
All this is well known; entering "Gulls plastic bag die" into Google brought up over 73,000 sites. One of the first was this; "Gulls can't read ...", incorporating this video.
(One of the comments on YouTube asks why the photographer didn't stop this. The answer is in the post: "He was in an elevated postion and was unable to go the herring gull's resuce - but the reality of what was unfolding before his eyes meant he kept his camera on.")
Researchers estimate that around 95% of all sea birds have eaten plastic litter. (Here, here, and here.) Worse still, is the multiplying lethality of these bags; after a killed gull rots away, the plastic, still intact, is released into the sea to lay in wait for another luckless bird or other animal (a turtle, a whale, etc.) And again, and again. The bag will last for centuries. (Even a so-called "bio-degradable" bag will remain intact for a long, long time. And once it has broken down, the plastic is still there, just in tiny pieces. It can still kill; it just won't choke a gull.)
Thanks for watching and "listening". You know what to do.