'Drastically wrong': Concern as hundreds of birds wash up on iconic beaches

Hundreds of dead seabirds washing up on some of Sydney’s most iconic beaches have sparked concern among locals, with experts saying this number of deaths is unprecedented.

Residents in Bondi took to social media this week revealing their shock at discovering scores of dead birds dotted along the famous beach.

One man said he saw “hundreds” over the weekend.

And Bondi wasn’t the only beach to be plagued with corpses, with residents in Collaroy on Sydney’s Northern Beaches and those in Cronulla in Sydney’s south also saying dead bird numbers were far beyond anything they’d seen before.

A dead shearwater on Bondi (left) and a shot of the famous beach (right).
Bondi residents said hundreds of shearwaters had washed up on the beach. Source: Facebook/ Getty

According to the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, dead seabirds washing up along the state’s coastline is nothing new for this time of year.

The birds discovered on beaches are shearwaters who are returning from Alaska to islands off the southern coast of Australia to breed.

Due to the gargantuan 14,000km journey, many birds die of exhaustion in an event the Office of Environment and Heritage describes as “an unfortunate but natural occurrence”.

However, there is concern that numbers of dead birds washing up on beaches has risen.

Seabird watchers in Victoria who await the arrival of shearwaters annually raised the alarm in September when thousands of birds failed to arrive despite their normally meticulous travel itinerary.

President of BirdLife Warrnambool Peter Barrand told Yahoo News Australia the drastically reduced numbers which have arrived at Griffiths Island at Port Fairy in Victoria was “very concerning”.

Dead shearwaters scattered across a NSW beach.
Dead shearwaters washing up on Australia's east coast is nothing new, but experts are concerned that there is more of them than ever. Source: BirdLife Australia

Mr Barrand said of the 30,000 shearwaters that nest on the island annually, only half had shown up, and of those, 50 per cent weren’t in any condition to breed.

Climate change playing role in dwindling bird numbers

When asked if he believed climate change had played a role in the demise of the birds, he was said he was certain that the two were linked.

“Water temperatures are rising, the fish shearwaters feed on are not coming into the shallows,” he said.

“If you want to use the magic words [climate change] then yes, there’s certainly something that’s going drastically wrong”.

BirdLife Australia agreed the rising numbers of shearwaters dying was due to rising temperatures in Alaska which has decimated shearwater’s food supply.

“Sea surface temperatures off Alaska have been unusually warm, which has led to a dire shortage of the shearwaters’ marine prey,” they said.

Even before their migration, thousands of shearwaters washed up on the coast of Alaska due to starvation, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

The surviving birds who were able to embark on their journey south, would have been malnourished and many would have struggled to complete the journey with any adverse weather conditions proving fatal en route.

Australian Seabird Rescue said breeding colony numbers are at an all time low.

Mr Barrand said of those to arrive on Griffiths Island, some were too weak to even burrow in the ground, with the predatory instincts of foxes on the island potentially reducing numbers further.

Noting it has been a “particularly bad year”, he said he doesn’t hold any hope that the current problems will get any better going forward.

And while Mr Barrand points towards global warming decimating the shearwater population, the birds chances of survival have also been badly effected by plastic pollution with mothers feeding their chicks plastic they have mistaken for food.

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