The last straw? Two Southern Ocean albatrosses die after ingesting balloons in Australia

ACAP Latest News has previously reported more than once on albatrosses and petrels becoming entangled with or ingesting latex balloons.  Records include entanglements and/or ingestions for the Black-footed Albatross Phoebastria nigripes and Arctic Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis in the Northern Hemisphere and Black-browed Albatross Thalassarche melanophris, Northern Macronectes halli and Southern M. giganteus Giant Petrels, Short-tailed Shearwater Puffinus tenuirostris and possibly Antarctic Petrel Thalassoica antarctica (one of the most southerly breeding seabirds) in the Southern Hemisphere (click here).

Two more procellariiform species, both ACAP-listed, can now be added to the above list.

Beach-washed carcasses of a Grey-headed Albatross Thalassarche chrysostoma (01 July 2015) and a Light-mantled Albatross Phoebetria fusca (09 October 2015) collected from Fraser Island, south-east Queensland, Australia both yielded pieces of balloons on necropsy by University of Tasmania PhD student, Lauren Roman.

David Stewart reports to ACAP Latest News that the Light-mantled Albatross more than likely died from a blocked gastro-intestinal tract (GIT).

The knot from a balloon blocks the gastro-intestinal tract of a Light-mantled Albatross

 The ballon knot after removal

  For the other bird David writes to ALN:

“The Grey-headed Albatross [is] more difficult to assess. There was both pieces of plastic and material from two different balloons (two different shades of red), however it was unknown if there was sufficient foreign material in the GIT to cause problems.  The general condition of the albatross was poor, with no body fat and wasted muscles, however many seabirds that have been washed up on the beach are in a similar condition.”

The Grey-headed Albatross also included a plastic straw, the first such record of ingestion by an albatross known to ALN, at least from the Southern Hemisphere.

Pieces of a red balloon within a Grey-headed Albatross stomach

Balloon fragments and a plastic straw from the Grey-headed Albatross proventriculus

The Grey-headed Albatross balloon unwrapped

Photos courtesy of Fregetta Photography  

 In a number of countries, including in Australia, environmental groups are campaigning for halts, or at least controls, of the releases of helium-filled balloons, especially en masse when linked to celebrations and sports events.  You can follow some of these bodies on Facebook:

Some environmental NGOs are also working against single-use plastic straws.

Read more on the above two incidents here.

With thanks to David Stewart.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 17 February 2017

The Agreement on the
Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels

ACAP is a multilateral agreement which seeks to conserve listed albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters by coordinating international activity to mitigate known threats to their populations.

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