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Shearwaters flock to seaway

November 7, 2013
Dale on Seaway

The water taxi heads to South Straddie. Dale the operator says he has to dodge hundreds of rafting shearwaters in the early morning because they don’t move.  They also rest and feed in the late afternoon. Photo by Mic Smith

By Mic Smith

Hundreds of shearwater birds use the Gold Coast Seaway to rest and feed on bait fish in early mornings and late afternoons, during the last leg of their migration.

The shearwaters share the seaway with hosts of small amateur fishing boats who also fish the river mouth at that time.

“There have been hundreds of them here every morning for the last month,” Dale who operates the surf taxi to South Stradbroke Island says.

They leave about 8 or 9 around the same time as the fishermen, he says.

They’re tired so they don’t move out of the way for boats. You have to go around them, Dale says.

The small dark grey birds are a mix of wedge tailed shearwaters, which nest right along the east coast, and short tailed shearwaters whose nesting areas concentrate mainly on islands in the Tasman Sea.

The wedge tailed shearwaters are finishing an annual migration to the Central Pacific, while the short tailed shearwaters have been to Siberia and Alaska and back since April.

The shearwaters also fish and raft along with other seabirds among the surfers along the famous 1km stretch of surf beach on South Straddie also called “The other side” or TOS.

This morning large flocks created a spectacle for the early morning crowd of South Stradbroke surfers often swimming close enough to touch.

Unlike other seabirds that dive from the air for fish, shearwaters hold their head under water and swim down  to catch fish.

They are exceptional swimmers.

They also have a quite comical technique of double windmilling their wings  with their heads still under water to chase fish on the surface.

In a show of nature’s cruelty, hundreds of them have washed up on the South Stradbroke Island beach dead or dying from exhaustion or food shortages in the last month.

If you find one on the beach, it will improve his chances of survival if you take him out of the sun and put him under a tree in the shade

A dead shearwater on a Gold Coast beach. The short tailed shearwater nesting ground in Victoria, Port Fairy, had its worst nesting season on record this year with only 10 percent survival of chicks. Nutrient rich currents from the Antarctic didn’t travel up as far as they usually do, an expert said. Photo by Mic Smith

Large “wrecks” of short tailed shearwaters have occurred all the way down the coast with media reports and community concern also in NSW and Victoria.

If you find one still alive you can help it by putting it under a tree in the shade but don’t take them home, Dale says.

He has seen them recuperate enough to fly off if they are not in the sun.

To get a glimpse of why shearwaters love it over there, check out these great pics of South Straddie with a voice over from Australian professional surfer Bede Durbidge. http://www.surfline.com/surf-news/spot-check-south-straddie–a-closer-look-at-one-of-australias-best-beachbreaks_47637/

If you find a live one on Sth Straddie, it will improve his chances of survival if you take him out of the sun and put him under a tree in the shade. Click on this picture to go to a video on ABC Open for more information.

A washed up shearwater not long before he dies on a Gold Coast beach.Click on this picture to go to a video on ABC Open for more information. Photo by Mic Smith

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