Tubenose! Cory’s and Scopoli’s Shearwaters smell their way to food at sea

Gaia Dell’Ariccia (CNRS, France) and colleagues write in The Journal of Experimental Biology on the ability of Cory's Calonectris borealis and Scopoli's Shearwaters C. diomedea to detect dimethylsulfide at sea, as a presumed cue during foraging.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“Many procellariiforms use olfactory cues to locate food patches over the seemingly featureless ocean surface.  In particular, some of them are able to detect and are attracted by dimethylsulfide (DMS), a volatile compound naturally occurring over worldwide oceans in correspondence with productive feeding areas.  However, current knowledge is restricted to sub-Antarctic species, and to only one study realized under natural conditions at sea.  Here, for the first time, we investigated the response to DMS in parallel in two different environments in temperate waters, the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, employing Cory's (Calonectris borealis) and Scopoli's shearwaters (Calonectris diomedea) as models.  To test whether these birds can detect and respond to DMS, we presented them with this substance in a Y-maze.  Then, to determine if they use this molecule in natural conditions, we tested the response to DMS at sea.  The number of birds that chose the DMS in the Y-maze and that were recruited at DMS-scented slicks at sea suggest that these shearwaters are attracted to DMS in both non-foraging and natural contexts.  Our findings show that the use of DMS as a foraging cue may be a strategy used by procellariiforms across oceans but that regional differences may exist, giving a worldwide perspective to previous hypotheses concerning the use of DMS as chemical cue.”

Cory's/Scopoli's Shearwater at sea, photograph by John Graham


Dell’Ariccia,G., Cerulier, A., Gabirot, M., Palmas, P. Massa, B. & Bonadonna, F. 2014.  Olfactory foraging in temperate waters: sensitivity to dimethylsulfide by shearwaters in the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea.  The Journal of Experimental Biology doi: 10.1242/​jeb.097931.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 22 March 2014

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