Scientists busy with observing our natural ecosystems have been wondering why birds, especially seabirds have started snacking or eating plastic and other such materials.
Studies estimate that each year more than 10 million tons of plastic masses end up in our planet’s water systems, especially our oceans.
As such, it is not a surprise that marine life has been numbering increasing encounters with the synthetic products.
However, scientists were surprised to see that 90 percent of all known seabirds have started eating said plastic masses.
One of the University of California, Davis’s Ph.D. in ecology candidates, Matthew Savoca set out to establish why this happens, with the study’s results having been published last week in the Science Advances Journal.
According to research, it was determined that the plastic currently floating in the waters of our oceans is releasing an odor that not only attracts the birds but also entices them to eat it.
The idea to test the odors levels came after taking into consideration the fact that birds have developed a keen olfactory sense so as to aid them in finding food.
Seabirds, in particular petrels, shearwaters, and albatrosses have been known to rely on their sniffing senses in order to locate food.
These particular groups search for an odor called DMS or dimethyl sulfide which is released by algae after or as other sea animals for example, krill, eat them.
With the birds’ diet consisting of the animals which eat the algae, the respective odor acts as a sort of radar towards their next meal.
Although the smell of the DMS was likened to that of rotting cabbage or dying seaweed, two highly unpleasant odors in terms of human standards, it was shown that birds which use it to discover food are more likely to eat plastic than those that don’t seek the reek.
And as the research established, the floating plastic masses which float on the waters release a pungent DMS smell.
Previous studies indicated that the plastic masses may have reminded the sea animals of their natural feeding sources because of their aspect, for example, turtles seeing jellyfish in plastic bags.
And although eating plastic if one sense was deceived is harder to believe, having two fake indicators for food may find it easier to explain the weird, new dietary habits of the birds.
As more seabirds and animals were found to be carrying pieces of plastic in their stomachs, researchers have yet to actually determine if it may actually lead to their death.
But they are already certain that carrying all that non-decomposing matter in their insides is having detrimental effects on their health as it does not ensure a rise in energy levels and also comes as a supplementary weight.
As scientists are now striving to understand the role of the DMS in the seabird search for food, they also hope that it will help them solve their plastic eating problems.
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