White capped albatross killed by oil. This species is listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN Red List. Photo: Forest & Bird.
According to the New Zealand government an oil spill from a grounded container ship in the Bay of Plenty has killed 1,250 seabirds with hundreds of others in rescue centers. However, conservationists say the avian death-toll is far higher with most contaminated birds simply vanishing in the sea.
"The number of birds being found washed up on the beaches will be a very small proportion of the birds being affected," explained Karen Baird, Seabird Conservation Advocate with NGO Forest & Bird. "A lot of oil-covered birds will simply sink at sea and some of the more lightly oiled birds will be flying back to their colonies."
After grounding itself on a reef, the container ship, MV Rena, released 350 tons into New Zealand's Bay of Plenty, polluting some of the nation's favorite beaches and decimating wildlife in the area.
Baird has warned that the oil disaster could injure and kill seabird chicks as well as adults. Since it is breeding season, adult birds may be unwittingly bringing oil back to their nests. Many chicks are also expected to starve when their parents don't return.
"The fact the dead birds include numbers of Buller's shearwaters is significant, because they only breed on the Poor Knights Islands north of Auckland. This shows the zone of impact from the disaster has already spread outside the Bay of Plenty," Baird adds.
Sixty-eight Buller's shearwaters have been found dead so far.
Conservationists also warn that the spill could be impacting whales, dolphins, fish, and seals. So far five seals have been taken in by rescue centers. (READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE)