A seabird topped more than 100mph as it stunned scientists by traveling over 700 miles in just 11 hours during a deadly typhoon.
The male was one of 14 adult streaked shearwaters fitted with GPS tracking devices as part of a study of the species’ homing behavior.
The Japanese researchers say their findings, published in the journal Ecology, suggest that increasingly severe weather driven by climate change may push ocean-going seabirds to their limits.
In August 2019, Dr. Kozue Shiomi, a seabird biologist at Tohoku University, attached GPS bio-loggers to the birds at a nesting colony on Mikurajima, a small island near Tokyo.
The following month an “exceptionally powerful” storm, Typhoon Faxai, blew into southeastern Japan, causing major damage on the mainland.
But the typhoon, with windspeeds nearing 125 miles per hour, also provided scientists with a rare glimpse into the capacity of seabirds to withstand extreme storm conditions – which they may increasingly have to deal with due to climate change.
Analysis of tracking data following the passage of Typhoon Faxai revealed that, while most of the tagged shearwaters appeared to be either unaffected by or had managed to circumvent the storm, one male had not been so lucky.
Over the 11-hour period during which he was tracked riding the storm, he completed five full circular loops of 30 to 50 miles in diameter each and was transported a total distance of 712 miles (1,146 km).
Dr. Shiomi said that, under normal conditions, streaked shearwaters typically fly at speeds of six to 35 miles per hour at altitudes below 100 meters (330 feet), and remain at sea.
By contrast, tracking data indicated that the bird caught in the storm had attained speeds of 55mph to 105 mph (90to 170 km (557742.8 feet) /hr), soared to an altitude of 4700 meters (15419.95 feet) , (15,400ft) and was carried over mainland Japan before the typhoon swung back into the Pacific Ocean.
Dr. Shiomi said: “Although it cannot be known for certain, it is possible that the shearwater was capable of escaping from the typhoon but instead chose to ride it out until the storm moved back over the ocean.
“Like most birds adapted to a life at sea, streaked shearwaters typically fly at very low altitudes, an efficient flight strategy over the open ocean that also puts them at higher risk of collisions with buildings, power lines and vehicles when over land.
“Moreover, they are clumsy on solid ground, and if forced to land have difficulty taking off, rendering them highly vulnerable to predation.
“Pelagic birds resort to a wide range of tactics to avoid being caught within the tumult of large storms.
“Red-footed boobies and great frigatebirds, for instance, often take to the wing and ascend to high altitudes, allowing storms to pass below, whereas Eastern brown pelicans simply sit them out, remaining grounded until conditions improve.
“Still others elect to stay within the eye of the storm, where winds are calmer.
“But as warmer air and surface-water temperatures intensify storms throughout the world’s ocean basins, questions are being raised about the ability of oceangoing birds to endure powerful storms that are projected to be a common occurrence.”
She added: “Improving understanding of how ocean-going birds cope with extreme weather will provide essential insight into the response – and resilience – of seabirds to the increasingly adverse environmental conditions expected under future climates.”
The peregrine falcon – best known for its diving speed during flight – can reach more than 300 kmh (186mph), making it not only the world’s fastest bird but also the world’s fastest animal.
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
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