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Seabirds Eat Plastic Because Of Its 'Attractive' Smell

Seabird

"This study shows that species that don't receive lot of attention, like petrels and some species of shearwaters, are likely to be impacted by plastic ingestion", study co-author Gabrielle Nevitt, also from the University of California, Davis, said in the statement. DMS is released when animals such as krill consume algae, and previous research has revealed that it serves as a type of dinner bell for tubenosed seabirds like albatross and petrels by alerting them to the krill's presence, which just happens to be one of their favorite meals.

But the new research finds the birds may be homing in on plastic trash, which gets coated with organic matter and ends up giving off a dying-algae smell.

Sea birds are making the mistake of eating plastic waste because its smell reminds them of food, a study has found.

Fifty or 60 years ago, there was no plastic in the ocean.We're changing the world so rapidly that these animals can't evolve rapidly enough to keep up.

Seabirds eat plastic because it smells bad.

Not only are these animals in danger of eating too much plastic, they are being tricked into foraging in areas that don't actually have many nutrients and missing out on real food.

"Plastic might not only be visually confusing for these birds, but chemically confusing", Savoca said.

Specifically, the plastic had started to smell like dimethyl sulfide, a smell that is often associated with decaying seaweed or rotting cabbage, the United Kingdom news outlet noted. Tube-nosed seabirds have a keen sense of smell, which they use to hunt over vast expanses of open ocean. Those that eat similar species to these birds - like baleen whales - or those that may also be attracted to dimethyl sulfide - like sea turtles - could be at risk.

To determine the flavor profile of trash, the researchers put beads made of high-density polyethylene, low-density polyethylene, and poly-propylene into the ocean at Monterey Bay and Bodega Bay, off the California coast.

Scientists have always been puzzled about why seabirds eat so much plastic when it's so bad for them. On the contrary, they did not detect any DMS when they tested plastic that hadn't been soaked in the sea.

Researchers from the University of California studied the sensory mechanisms that may be contributing to the consumption of plastic by seabirds. After three weeks, they took the beads back to UC Davis and had them analyzed for a chemical smell signature. The discovery could result in new ways to prevent accidental plastic ingestion.

It is also produced in the oceans through the breakdown of microscopic algae or phytoplankton, which collects on plastic.

According to a study that was published this Wednesday in the Science Advances magazine, plastic looks and smell appetizing for some bird species. For example, Savoca says, some scientists said perhaps sea turtles were eating plastic bags because they looked like jellyfish in the water.

"In the case of seabirds, most biologists would agree that just the fact that they're carrying deadweight around is bad for the birds", he says. But he says the biggest priority should be keeping plastic out of our waterways in the first place.