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All washed up


shearwater on Port Melbourne beach

Over recent weeks, Port Melbourne and Port Phillip’s bay beaches have been littered with dead short tailed shearwaters. The scale of the deaths is disturbing.

Who can’t be stirred by feelings of compassion and deep curiosity about what has led to these mass deaths or ‘wrecks’ as they are sometimes called. Media reports are mildly reassuring – that this is a natural phenomenon that occurs every 10 years or so but noting that the winds have been unusually strong.

An instinctive response – to care for the birds – is unlikely to be successful and we are advised that ‘nature should take its course’, that they are an abundant species and the loss of so many thousands of birds is not a concern. What to do then with the helpless feeling? The least we can do is to take a closer look, to gain a greater understanding, to inquire a bit more. The scale of the ‘wreck’ seems like a harbinger of doom. They are so black and so many and their exhaustion so evident. Only poetry finds words for such events and A D Hope’s Death of A Bird  comes to mind  ‘For every bird there is this last migration ..   and the final verse:

‘And darkness rises from the eastern valleys, And the winds buffet her with their hungry breath, … (to continue reading the poem click here). 

The birds have arrived here exhausted and depleted after a mega-journey from the North Pacific. The most newly fledged and the older birds are the ones most likely not to make the journey. The birds dive below the water to feed in ‘rafts’ for krill and fish.  The hooked beak allows them to hold on to their prey.  As you can see, their feet are more adapted to swimming than walking. They can barely walk a few steps. They come back to Australia to breed. The birds lay only one egg. To find out more about them visit the  BirdLife Australia website.

The dead birds are gathered up with the plastic detritus and the seaweed for disposal.


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