Birds Can Be Drawn to the Scent of Plastic By Tatiana Schlossberg

Summary of article: Recently, birds have known to eat plastic and trash that is floating in the ocean. The trash has been broken down into tiny pieces by waves and other elements. These small pieces of plastic are called microplastics. Patches of microplastics float through the ocean, much like krill and other small aquatic animals that birds eat. There was speculation that birds eat the plastic because they do not know the difference between their food sources and trash because of the way it floats, but its been proved that birds have the intelligence to differentiate the two. Scientists conducted a study based off of seabirds and their strong sense of smell and came to the conclusion that there is a specific scent given off by the plastic that attracts the birds to consume the trash in the ocean.

The chemical that provokes the reaction of the birds is called dimethyl sulfide. This releases a scent that seabirds know as a cue to hunt and eat their prey. It is released by hytoplankton as it gets eaten by a predator, like krill, which birds feed in. When the birds catch a whiff of dimethyl sulfide, they know it is time to eat. Coincidentally, plastic in the ocean also releases dimethyl sulfide. It is for this reason that the birds willing consume the plastic.

phytoplankton release dimethyl sulfide when they are being eaten by predators, and signal birds to come and feed on the predators.

Analysis of the article: The birds are eating plastic that is in the ocean because of human activity and inappropriate disposal of waste. The study conducted by scientists to prove if birds are attracted to dimethyl sulfide, suggests that the odor on plastic debris is “maladaptive foraging behavior” — that the birds are using their evolutionary traits to forage for food in ways that might be bad for them, causing problems like chemical toxicity or obstruction. This results in major health issues with the birds, which can ultimately lead to death. This is harmful for the entire aquatic ecosystem, as it could possibly end in the loss of a species.

plastic in the ocean

My "Big Takeaway": The entire issue presented in the articleis caused by humans and our reckless disposal of plastic. We, as a species, are destroying ecosystems and causing multiple environmental problems, the one addressed in this article is just on of many. Humans need to be aware of the effects that they are having on our planet and we need to educate and be educated to prevent issues like this from furthering and becoming more severe. I firmly believe that we could avoid this and many more issues by being more conscious of the repercussions of our everyday actions, such as our use and disposable of plastics.

a seabird with a mouthful of plastic :(

Credits:

Created with images by werner22brigitte - "flying seagull bird" • Tony Fischer Photography - "Seabirds of the Eastern Shore"

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