A ten-day-old Northern Royal Albatross chick succumbs to ingested plastic

2chick plastic death 2A Northern Royal Albatross chick in ICU after eating plastic, photograph by the Wildlife Hospital

A 10-day old Endangered Northern Royal Albatross Diomedea sanfordi chick has died while under care in the Wildlife Hospital in Dunedin after it swallowed soft plastic that had been regurgitated to it by its parent at Taiaroa Head/Pukekura, South Island, New Zealand.  The soft but tough plastic was discovered during necropsy to have caused an obstruction in the gastrointestinal tract, which ultimately led to starvation and organ failure.

chick plastic death 5Plastic (and squid beaks) found in the regurgitation of an albatross chick, photograph by the Department of Conservation

Department of Conservation biodiversity ranger Sharyn Broni said it was the first death of its kind at the Taiaroa Head colony, but rangers had feared something like this could happen after other close calls in recent years.

“This heartbreaking incident is a reminder it's vital to dispose of plastic rubbish carefully.  People can also help by picking up litter they see on beaches, near waterways, or out on the ocean. Every piece you pick up could save a seabird's life.”

Northern Royal Albatross chick plastic pony Theo Thompson
My Little Pony”, photograph by Theo Thompson

In May 2021, a 9-cm-long plastic pony toy, which had been regurgitated by a parent, was found in a chick's nest.  Fortunately, in that case the chick did not swallow it, Broni said.

"DOC staff found plastic in almost all the [albatross] chick regurgitations checked last season.  The most common plastics seen were bottlecaps, however items like a plastic syringe were also found.”

Read more on the hatchling's death.  Previous plastic items in addition to the pony toy found associated with Taiaroa Head’s albatrosses have included bottle caps, squid lures, fishing floats, a container tab and the handle of an infant formula scoop.

Plastic pollution was the theme for last year’s World Albatross Day (WAD2023) on 19 June.

John Cooper, Emeritus Information Officer, Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels, 28 March 2024

The Agreement on the
Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels

ACAP is a multilateral agreement which seeks to conserve listed albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters by coordinating international activity to mitigate known threats to their populations.

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