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Study documents marathon migrations of sooty shearwaters

Santa Cruz, CA -- Every summer, millions of sooty shearwaters arrive off the coast of California, their huge flocks astonishing visitors who may have trouble grasping that the dark swirling clouds over the water consist of seabirds. Scientists have long known that sooty shearwaters breed in New Zealand and Chile and migrate to feeding grounds in the Northern Hemisphere. But the details of this remarkable transequatorial migration are only now emerging from a study using electronic tracking tags to follow individual birds.

The flights of sooty shearwaters documented in this new study represent the longest animal migration routes ever recorded using electronic tracking technology: around 65,000 kilometers (39,000 miles). Taking advantage of prevailing winds along different parts of the migration route, the birds trace giant figure eights over the Pacific Basin.

"The only other bird species known that could rival the migrations of the sooty shearwater would be the arctic tern, which breeds in the Arctic and migrates to Antarctica. But we don't know if they do that in a single season, because nobody's ever tracked them," said Scott Shaffer, a research biologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and first author of a paper describing the new findings, published in next week's online early edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Shaffer worked with an international team of scientists from UCSC and other institutions in the United States, New Zealand, and France. The researchers found that the migratory cycle of sooty shearwaters encompasses the entire Pacific Basin, focusing on the richest feeding grounds in both hemispheres--from Antarctic waters in the south during the breeding season to bountiful coastal currents off California, Alaska, and Japan in the north. These small seabirds cross the equator twice a year in pursuit of an endless summer in which their feeding areas are always at or near the p
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Contact: Tim Stephens
stephens@ucsc.edu
831-459-4352
University of California - Santa Cruz
7-Aug-2006


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