In July 2011 New Zealand experienced its largest seabird wreck in history, when around 300,000 whalebirds or prions died as a result of a severe storm over New Zealand. They are one of the most common seabirds in the Southern hemisphere and can usually ride out storms but not this one. Relentless gales consumed the birds’ energy until they were exhausted and driven ashore.
Over 800 of the carcasses ended up at Te Papa, and are being processed. The research includes determining the age and sex of each bird, collecting tissue samples for genetic and stable isotope analysis, and assessing whether they are suitable for the collection. If they are suitable, then the scientists need to determine whether the method of preparation is for study skins, skeletons, or for deposit in the spirit collection.
On Tuesday 22 October, the second Science Live event: Whalebirds – the mystery of the storm riders took place at Te Papa. This was a live-stream feed, screened on Level 2, of a dissection of these birds by Te Papa scientists. Following the screening Friends had the unique opportunity to view this research at the Te Papa laboratory in Tory Street and to discuss the project with the scientists.
If you missed this opportunity you can view the film by following this link . It is a fascinating insight into the fate of these small birds and a timely reminder of how the environment impacts on marine life.
The members who attended loved the opportunity to talk to the scientists and see where they worked.