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Baby birds eat our plastic.
October 17, 2009 9:14 AM   Subscribe


 
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posted by humannaire at 9:17 AM on October 17, 2009


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posted by brundlefly at 9:18 AM on October 17, 2009


Whoa.
posted by ashaw at 9:19 AM on October 17, 2009


That is hugely distressing.

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posted by emperor.seamus at 9:20 AM on October 17, 2009 [4 favorites]


Fuck.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:26 AM on October 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's more that the invisible hand of the market has worked out the most effective way to outsource garbage collection, right?

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posted by jaduncan at 9:27 AM on October 17, 2009 [10 favorites]


It's an arresting photo series that comes as a shock, but know that I added a small warning to the front page to make sure it doesn't feel like a bait-and-switch with "baby birds" in the text linking to dead birds. It's a logical conclusion, but I didn't want to piss anyone off that wasn't expecting to see dead bird photos without a warning (which, from the admin side is a surprisingly high number of members here).
posted by mathowie at 9:30 AM on October 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Thanks mathowie. Wasn't meaning to be sneaky about it.

I'm just so shocked there is so much plastic consumed by each bird.
posted by typewriter at 9:36 AM on October 17, 2009


Oh no no. This is just...fuck...utterly, utterly heartbreaking.

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posted by Lutoslawski at 9:39 AM on October 17, 2009


I have to wonder if the plastic was added by the photographer, if these are somehow staged.

But I can't honestly say whether that feeling arises more out of intellectual skepticism or out of a longing for it not to be true.
posted by jock@law at 9:41 AM on October 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's okay everyone go back to giving your 2.5 kids "a better life" and don't bother with the recycling, it's a big pain in the ass.
posted by autodidact at 9:42 AM on October 17, 2009


"To document this phenomenon as faithfully as possible, not a single piece of plastic in any of these photographs was moved, placed, manipulated, arranged, or altered in any way. These images depict the actual stomach contents of baby birds in one of the world's most remote marine sanctuaries, more than 2000 miles from the nearest continent."

Shit.
posted by egypturnash at 9:45 AM on October 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Reality is prone to piss off people, eh? "Our stupid, wasteful ways are killing wildlife, but it upsets me more that I'm forced to know about it!"

We are so doomed.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:46 AM on October 17, 2009 [7 favorites]


Since the plastic can be re-eaten it is recyclable.
posted by stbalbach at 9:49 AM on October 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


I counted at least four disposable lighters.

Time to buy a Zippo.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:55 AM on October 17, 2009 [4 favorites]


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posted by everichon at 9:56 AM on October 17, 2009


This raises so many more questions than it answers. Do all the albatross young end up being fed plastic or only some/most? Are there any that survive? Those that do, are they not fed plastic or is their belly full just that much less that they can reach adulthood? Are the parents picking out the plastic, or are they feeding the young fish that have consumed the plastic?

I wish the photographer had provided more information. 10's of thousands supposedly die byt there are no mass shots of dead babies, just a small collection of individual images. I have no doubt its happening, but there is no frame of reference to how bad its happening, other than the photographers word.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 10:00 AM on October 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


I like how in the last 5 years, the massive "environmentalists are exaggerating/crazy" narrative has started to simply, disappear, in the media.

I don't like how it has been disappearing without a comment of how fucking heavy handed it was throughout the last few decades.

I guess we've always been at war with Oceania...
posted by yeloson at 10:08 AM on October 17, 2009 [4 favorites]


this made me very, very sad.
posted by sundri at 10:09 AM on October 17, 2009


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posted by sswiller at 10:10 AM on October 17, 2009


Heartbreaking.
posted by honeybee413 at 10:11 AM on October 17, 2009


I don't like how it has been disappearing without a comment of how fucking heavy handed it was throughout the last few decades.

Actually it is more "heavy handed" now than ever. I suggest the change has been your perspective, the message is sinking in because the evidence continues to mount. The previous warnings apparently were not heavy handed enough; the future is not so bright.
posted by stbalbach at 10:18 AM on October 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is just awful. I'm not sure I'm glad I've seen it, but I hope a lot more people see it. Sound contradictory? I hope not.
posted by hippybear at 10:19 AM on October 17, 2009


I wish the photographer had provided more information. 10's of thousands supposedly die byt there are no mass shots of dead babies, just a small collection of individual images. I have no doubt its happening, but there is no frame of reference to how bad its happening, other than the photographers word.

Well, I know wikipedia isn't considered an actual source here in MeFi, but the page on albatross says that they are long-lived bird (up to 50 years), and as such invest a lot of time and energy into raising small numbers of young. I'd be surprised if there were more than a single chick at a time to photograph, rather than a brood of several in a single nest.

(The article also says that it is rare for a pair to have eggs in consecutive years, so every dead chick is a real loss to the total population.)
posted by hippybear at 10:24 AM on October 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


five fresh fish: "Reality is prone to piss off people, eh? "

Yeah, I've noticed that.
posted by Joe Beese at 10:27 AM on October 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Some portion of that second paragraph came out muddled, but I think my point came across. Please revise in your mind.
posted by hippybear at 10:28 AM on October 17, 2009


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posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:35 AM on October 17, 2009


This is just proof that God doesn't like birds, so he uses the invisible hands of the free market to strangle birds. It may seem sad, or distasteful, but the market works in mysterious, ineffable and ultimately beneficial ways. I guarantee that by killing these birds, somebody elsewhere is better off. Next time you get a raise, I think you should thank the government for not regulating disposal, and thank the momma birds for accidentally killing their babies.

But yeah, I'm really glad that the anti-environmentalist narrative has evolved so that it's now no longer about environmentalists being "crazy." Even though you could argue climate change denial goes in that direction, most of the argument boils down to "But don't you want to be rich? How can we give you your tax cuts when you strike it big if we worry about climate change?" It's a morally inept argument, and I think it's a sign the public is starting to move in the right direction.

Still, we're not out of the woods, yet. The paranoid fringe, who have been flaring up lately, act like environmentalism is a wedge to impose left-wing fascism. As soon as Glenn Beck finds some diary entry about a Hitler's Youth leader getting the boys to clean up a lake or something, the discourse will plummet so much. Or maybe one of Obama's aides will quote James Lovelock, and then fundamentalist Christians will connect it to Gaia theory, and then argue that the administration is pushing a "neo-Pagan Earth Worship" agenda.
posted by mccarty.tim at 10:40 AM on October 17, 2009


About a year ago I bought some liquid soap that contained a very, very mild abrasive. Upon close inspection the exfoliating abrasive turned out to be little bits of blue plastic. As in, by using this product I was going to end up putting tiny, sand-sized particles of plastic into the ecosystem. Which is to say, into filter-feeders, into fish, and all the way up the food chain. Legal or not, that seems completely irresponsible and unstewardlike. Not that my little protest amounts to much but that's why I now refuse to buy any Nivea products.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 10:41 AM on October 17, 2009 [6 favorites]


I'm somewhat surprised by the reactions to this FPP (not to say I think they're unwarranted, far from it). If any of you are knowing about this for the first time, I recommend watching Capt. Charles Moore's TED talk (from a previous post).
posted by Bangaioh at 10:49 AM on October 17, 2009 [8 favorites]


I like how in the last 5 years, the massive "environmentalists are exaggerating/crazy" narrative has started to simply, disappear, in the media.

I don't like how it has been disappearing without a comment of how fucking heavy handed it was throughout the last few decades.
-- yeloson

Actually it is more "heavy handed" now than ever. I suggest the change has been your perspective, the message is sinking in because the evidence continues to mount. The previous warnings apparently were not heavy handed enough; the future is not so bright. -- stbalbach

You guys are talking about opposite things. Yeloson was talking about how people would claim environmentalists were crazy, and stbalbach seems to be talking about normal environmentalists messages.

I really have no idea what most people hear these days because I don't watch much TV. The thing about society now is that your perspective of it is really all under your own control, there is no 'single' message that people take home. People who spend a lot of time on conservative media are definitely getting the "environmentalists are wacko" message, while those on the liberal side are in an media universe* that takes it for as obviously true. My impression is that mainstream media also takes the environmentalists messages as obviously true as well.

*normally I'd say 'media environment' but that would get a little confusing here :P
posted by delmoi at 10:49 AM on October 17, 2009


This is nothing compared to what we are doing to ourselves/eachother. And judging from these photos, deservedly so.
posted by onkelchrispy at 11:10 AM on October 17, 2009


Just a little healthy skepticism... I think I'd die if I ate one plastic coke bottle cap. Are we sure this isn't a dead bird with plastic sprinkled in it to make an artistic environmental message? Has this been confirmed by a second unrelated source? Perhaps in the environmental sciences? Perhaps published and peer reviewed?
posted by CarlRossi at 11:16 AM on October 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Is it safe to talk about evo-freaks, now? You know, those people that insist that this is all part of biological fitness.
posted by No Robots at 11:24 AM on October 17, 2009


Wow, horrible. Thanks for ruining my weekend.

That said, it would've been great to add more meat to the post with a little science etc. I'm inclined to believe that there's no foul play here on the side of the photographer but I'd love to have seen some additional information shedding more light on the subject. It seems there's enough out there that's easy to find:

Here's a couple from the first page of my Google search:

from the Monterey Bay Aquarium
Oikonos.org
from a project of Kapalama Middle School (Hawaii)
posted by Hairy Lobster at 11:31 AM on October 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


speechless.
posted by water bear at 11:36 AM on October 17, 2009


I'm not sure I'll be able anything that isn't farmed now.

I don't know why plastics continue to be used so much.

* Eliminate plastic bags with paper bags or biodegradable canvas alternatives
* All drinks in glass bottles or cans
* No more than one layer of wrapping on anything. No plastic to be used unless it can be assured to be completely necessary
* Eliminate plastic furniture, cooking utensils, shower curtains
* No plastic toys
* Products must be recyclable as a whole - no bottletops of different material
* Bring back pencils
* Consumer electronics in reusable and easily cleanable housing
* Eliminate plastic clothes
posted by niccolo at 11:48 AM on October 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


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posted by limeonaire at 12:23 PM on October 17, 2009


Beautiful

I mean, that decay, the careful arrangement.

Swooping, majestic birds, salt-ridden plastic, the gulps and sweet cries of baby birds; and starvation, clearly not beautiful.
posted by past at 12:24 PM on October 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


that semicolon should be a comma
posted by past at 1:09 PM on October 17, 2009


I wonder, in a million years, if archeologists will be going through the fossil record and find the plastic in the stomach contents of every fossilized animal and dub this time period the Plastecine Period. And perhaps a bacteria that can digest plastic back into oil will have evolved, converting some of these stockpiles of plastic back into usable oil, rendering said archeologists insanely rich like Futurama with the sardines...
posted by msbutah at 1:17 PM on October 17, 2009


I don't know why plastics continue to be used so much.

I always assumed it was because they're essentially a biproduct of gasoline manufacturing.
posted by 7segment at 1:37 PM on October 17, 2009


Well, that, but mostly because plastic is a lot cheaper than wood, glass, and metal.

It's also a lot less cherishable and more disposable, which means there's a nice buy/waste cycle with which to drive an overinflated economy.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:40 PM on October 17, 2009


Plastic: Dead animals that kill animals.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:43 PM on October 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


The previous warnings apparently were not heavy handed enough; the future is not so bright.

Actually, I meant the message that "environmentalism is crazy/unfounded" being heavy-handed, not actual environmental messages being heavy handed.

I mean, we've got the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and a new "Northern Passage" opening up where we should have ice caps - we should have Terror Alert High blasting all day about stuff like that.
posted by yeloson at 2:02 PM on October 17, 2009


Plastic: The Dinosaur's Revenge.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:11 PM on October 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


Sys rq, I agree with you but am trying to make a slightly different point, that being that the problem is on the supply side. You can outlaw all the plastic consumer products you want (per niccolo's suggestion), and all you'll end up doing is glutting the petroleum industry with a bunch of alkenes and arenes they wouldn't know what otherwise to do with, since their throughput is primarily concerned with fuels. For every 100 km you drive your minivan, the refinery is going to shit out however many cents worth of polyethylene and polystyrene beads, and convincing people in whatever way to stop buying plastic shower curtains isn't going to do much in the way of changing that.
posted by 7segment at 2:14 PM on October 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


There are some good photos on the Midway Project's flickr page that aren't as composed.
posted by unmake at 2:18 PM on October 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


7segment: Ah. Yes.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:27 PM on October 17, 2009


The more evidence I see of the destructiveness of plastic to the environment as a whole, the guiltier I feel about loving Legos.

These are heartbreaking photos. Share them.
posted by Graygorey at 2:35 PM on October 17, 2009


Here is some more info about Project Kaisei who are studying the "plastic vortex".
posted by ginky at 3:06 PM on October 17, 2009


"With my cross-bow I shot the Albatross." (Thanks for posting this, typewriter.)
posted by steef at 3:18 PM on October 17, 2009


Okay. Never buying another beverage in a plastic bottle ever again.

God.
posted by nax at 4:07 PM on October 17, 2009 [1 favorite]



I have to wonder if the plastic was added by the photographer, if these are somehow staged.

But I can't honestly say whether that feeling arises more out of intellectual skepticism or out of a longing for it not to be true.
posted by jock@law



no. I doubt it. There would no need to stage it as it is a very real freaking problem.
http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1914145,00.html

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZXVw19bP0tw

and yeah the first time years ago I read about it, it featured the happy little baby bird dead a couple of days later with a belly full of plastic. Please fix that someone because I don't know what to do.
posted by mkim at 4:54 PM on October 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


For those concerned about how "composed" the photos look, from the NOAA.

Additionally: Although a chick may be fed plastics, once they reach fledgling age they are usually able to regurgitate the indigestible material and cleanse their bodies of the plastic. However, if the pieces are too large or in this case, large, sharp and piercing, the bird may die an agonizing death; totally impacted and/or the lining punctured. As we walked the paths of Green Island we observed many young dead albatross. After viewing this incredible necropsy we contemplate how many of these young birds may have met a similar fate to the one we necropsied. Our specimen was chosen at random, selected only because we realized it had died within the last few hours.

Hard numbers are difficult to come by; the NOAA does offer these numbers in the FAQs of their Marine Debris section:

"Is it true that 100,000 marine mammals and/or sea turtles die each year due to marine debris/plastics?
This statement is possible, but difficult to say with certainty. To date there are no published studies specifically researching how many marine mammals die each year directly due to marine debris [...] Below is the closest figure that we could find. These statements were made in a paper presented at the 1984 Workshop on the Fate and Impact of Marine Debris by Wallace (1985). The manuscript does not state that marine mammals are dying from plastic pieces, but rather that mortality is caused by entanglement from lost fishing gear and other unknown causes.

“Debris entanglement is estimated to cause 50,000 to 90,000 deaths per year in the northern fur seal. The population in 1983 was dropping on the main rookery in Alaska at about 8% per year. At least 50,000 deaths are thought to be due to entanglement; the other 40,000 deaths possible entanglement or possibly some unknown factor such as disease (Fowler, 1983).”

In the conclusions: “Up to one hundred thousand marine mammals and possibly more die each year. Half or more of the individuals of certain marine reptile species are affected by the plastic litter, and beachcombing land mammals become snarled in nets and die. ...”

The figures cited here are from another study by Fowler (1983) of fur seals in the North Pacific, and not from Wallace’s research. Keep in mind that this 1983 paper predates MARPOL Annex V, an international treaty implemented in 1988, which prohibits the dumping of plastics (including fishing gear) anywhere at sea."

and

"Is it true that marine debris kills a million seabirds each year?
This statement is currently unknown. We are so far unable to find a scientific reference for this figure. The closest we have found is “214,500 to 763,000 seabirds are killed annually incidental to driftnet fishing by Japanese fishermen in the North Pacific Ocean (US Department of Commerce, 1981)” from Laist, 1987. This refers to active fishing gear bycatch and not marine debris; it also predates the high seas driftnet ban adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1992."

And it's not just sea/shore birds and mammals affected.

Disclosure:I admit to a passionate hatred of plastic garbage. Google image searches using the terms seabird plastic or wildlife plastic bring up enough photos to make me ill for weeks; there are far too many of them for faking to be necessary.

We're not anywhere near heavy-handed enough on the issue.
posted by faineant at 5:16 PM on October 17, 2009 [5 favorites]


They eat tapes :(
posted by TwelveTwo at 7:07 PM on October 17, 2009


Addicted To Plastic
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:19 PM on October 17, 2009


We deserve a whole Hellraiser-type scenario to happen to us for us. Poor fucking baby birdies.
posted by Kloryne at 10:50 PM on October 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


... "to us for THIS." Hate having no edit feature.
posted by Kloryne at 10:52 PM on October 17, 2009


Not that my little protest amounts to much but that's why I now refuse to buy any Nivea products.

Good. But don't forget to tell them that you're telling this story to everybody you know, urging them to do the same.
posted by DreamerFi at 2:54 AM on October 18, 2009


wow, this is so horrible.

albatrosses are really remarkable birds. like cranes, they mate for life. they also live for decades. when raising their young, the male & female albatrosses will take it in turns to go flying incredible distances - weeks on end - to forage for food to bring back to the fledglings.

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posted by UbuRoivas at 5:38 AM on October 18, 2009


I've seen in person a few examples of wildlife trapped in plastic debris, enough that i feel no desire to view the linked dead-bird photos on this beautiful sunny fall day.

The example that I remember best is seeing some seals basking on a breakwater. When one rolled a bit this giant raw gash opened up. We were close enoug to see that this gash was caused by a length of monofilament fishing line. Ironically, this was in Monterey Bay.

I've also seen a bird caught in one of those fucking polyethylene thingys used to loop beer cans together, and now I can't pass one without immediately cutting it up and discarding the bits.

Plastic is actually an amazing and useful compound and it's emblematic of our stupidity that we use so much of it to make things designed to be thrown away. I suspect that when we run out of oil, it may become economically viable to collect and reprocess all the discarded plastic.
posted by Artful Codger at 8:20 AM on October 18, 2009


Think of the tinier particles of plastic floating around out there and imagine how much the blue whales are collecting.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:20 PM on October 18, 2009


Good point! We could start hunting them again, in order to recycle the plastic!
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:40 PM on October 18, 2009


The author of the post on Neatarama posted a video on his personal blog (TYWKIWDBI) of a polluted river in Romania. It's devastating.
posted by zinfandel at 4:05 PM on October 22, 2009


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