Northern Fulmars and Plastic Ingestion

Photography from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Photography from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Northern fulmars (Fulmarus glacialis) are a seabird which highly resemble seagulls, but are actually closely related to albatross. They are found in the Northern Atlantic and Pacific Ocean regions and  live at sea their whole lives.

 The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) determined that the amount of plastic found in Fulmar stomachs is a reliable way to monitor plastic litter at sea (OSPAR, 2006). The critical amount of plastic for this species (defined by OSPAR Ecological Quality Objective) is no more than 10% of fulmars exceeding 0.1 g of plastic in their stomachs (Van Franekera et al 2011) and the ideal scenario is "less than 2% of northern fulmars (Fulmarus glacialis) having ten or more plastic particles in the stomach" (OSPAR, 2006). In a study done by Van Franekera et al it was found that 95% of sampled northern fulmars had plastic in their stomachs, 58% of those exceeded the critical level of 0.1 g, and the average amount of plastic found in the bird stomachs was 35 pieces weighing .31 g (Van Franekera et al2011).

Photography by AWeith

Photography by AWeith

So, what we can gather from this particular case study? The big take away is that plastics were present in the stomachs of nearly every one of these birds. The majority of the birds that consumed plastic had ingested about 3x above the critical level. 

The fulmars serve as an indicator species in this instance, meaning they represent a specific ecological condition.  That ecological condition is: there is far too much plastic in the ocean, and it is dangerous to marine life.

Photography by  Francesco Veronesi

Photography by Francesco Veronesi