Seabirds and sailors have a long history together. They are reputed to have guided lost sailors to land, led fishermen to catch fish and the sight of them has encouraged many a despairing sailor to realise that land is nearby. From the time a small bird, obviously tired, came out of nowhere to land on NCB Ireland when I was crewing aboard in the then Whitbread Round the World Race, I have been fascinated by how birds fly huge distances over the oceans. That bird stayed for over a day and we were anxious to feed and give it water. Then, sometime in the early dawn it left, heading for I know not where. The legendary Albatross is perhaps the most well-known bird of the seas. Whenever I am sailing in Cork Harbour and see birds dive out of the sky, plunging into and below the water to catch fish, I watch fascinated. When seagulls were being accused of attacking humans in their search for food, it was tme a sign of food lacking at sea as they came inland.
Birdwatch Ireland is the organisation which protects Ireland's birds and their habitats. Fintan Kelly, Policy Officer at Birdwatch, told me this week on the podcast below that one of the most troubling indications of the state of the broader marine environment comes from research carried out on the behaviour of seabirds, because they are excellent indicators of what is happening at and in the sea.
As I said at the outset, seabirds and humans have a long history together, but many species of seabirds are threatened by human activities, which all of us sailors should be concerned about. So I urge you to listen to what Fintan Kelly has to say. You might just think a lot more about the next birds you encounter at sea.
Listen to him on the podcast below where you can also hear how Lifeguards prevented 16,316 marine accidents and keep up with the pace of life on the offshore islands which is quite hectic.
Tom MacSweeney presents This Island Nation maritime programme