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Cloudier Waters Affecting Seabird Feeding - UCC Study

28th July 2022
Manx shearwater flying over the sea
Manx shearwater flying over the sea Credit: Jamie Darby

University College Cork (UCC) researchers say that cloudier sea waters, caused in part by climate change, is making it harder for seabirds to catch fish.

Researchers attached tiny trackers to the feathers of Manx Shearwater seabirds on Little Saltee, off the southeast coast, to see how underwater visibility affects their ability to forage for fish and other prey.

The study is the first to examine impact of ocean clarity on the diving abilities of seabirds, and results have been published in Proceedings of the Royal Society of Birds.

Lead author of the study, UCC marine ecologist Jamie Darby said that “the chemical and physical properties of the planet’s oceans are changing at an unnatural rate, bringing about challenges for marine life”.

“One consequence of climate change is that large areas of our oceans are becoming cloudier,” Darby said.

Darby and the research team say they investigated the diving patterns of the black and white Manx Shearwaters in relation to local environmental conditions like cloud cover and water clarity.

They recorded over 5000 different dives, and drew from publicly available databases, and a range of relevant information about weather patterns and ocean conditions.

The study found that the birds dove deeper when sunlight could penetrate further underwater, suggesting that visibility is key to their ability to dive for food.

The study says that seabirds will have to overcome this challenge as the planet warms and the ocean becomes cloudier.

“Our findings support the idea that the birds needed sufficient sunlight to be able to forage at depth,” Darby said.

“ While this study examined one particular seabird, the results can be extended to other animals,” he said.

“ Many visually-dependent predators could find themselves struggling to find food as human activities continue to make the oceans murkier,” Darby said.

Lorna Siggins

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Lorna Siggins

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Lorna Siggins is a print and radio reporter, and a former Irish Times western correspondent. She is the author of Search and Rescue: True stories of Irish Air-Sea Rescues and the Loss of R116 (2022); Everest Callling (1994) on the first Irish Everest expedition; Mayday! Mayday! (2004); and Once Upon a Time in the West: the Corrib gas controversy (2010). She is also co-producer with Sarah Blake of the Doc on One "Miracle in Galway Bay" which recently won a Celtic Media Award

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Marine Wildlife Around Ireland One of the greatest memories of any day spent boating around the Irish coast is an encounter with marine wildlife.  It's a thrill for young and old to witness seabirds, seals, dolphins and whales right there in their own habitat. As boaters fortunate enough to have experienced it will testify even spotting a distant dorsal fin can be the highlight of any day afloat.  Was that a porpoise? Was it a whale? No matter how brief the glimpse it's a privilege to share the seas with Irish marine wildlife.

Thanks to the location of our beautiful little island, perched in the North Atlantic Ocean there appears to be no shortage of marine life to observe.

From whales to dolphins, seals, sharks and other ocean animals this page documents the most interesting accounts of marine wildlife around our shores. We're keen to receive your observations, your photos, links and youtube clips.

Boaters have a unique perspective and all those who go afloat, from inshore kayaking to offshore yacht racing that what they encounter can be of real value to specialist organisations such as the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) who compile a list of sightings and strandings. The IWDG knowledge base has increased over the past 21 years thanks in part at least to the observations of sailors, anglers, kayakers and boaters.

Thanks to the IWDG work we now know we share the seas with dozens of species who also call Ireland home. Here's the current list: Atlantic white-sided dolphin, beluga whale, blue whale, bottlenose dolphin, common dolphin, Cuvier's beaked whale, false killer whale, fin whale, Gervais' beaked whale, harbour porpoise, humpback whale, killer whale, minke whale, northern bottlenose whale, northern right whale, pilot whale, pygmy sperm whale, Risso's dolphin, sei whale, Sowerby's beaked whale, sperm whale, striped dolphin, True's beaked whale and white-beaked dolphin.

But as impressive as the species list is the IWDG believe there are still gaps in our knowledge. Next time you are out on the ocean waves keep a sharp look out!