It’s a heist Sam pulls regularly. He lingers outside the convenience store, pacing around the sidewalk a bit. Then, when the cashier is occupied, he darts in, grabs a bag of Doritos from the chip stand near the entrance, and darts out. Well, actually, he waddles. Sam is a gull.
Customers amused by the robberies have reportedly started donating money to feed Sam’s habit. "We'd discourage people from feeding gulls though, as gulls in towns generate lots of complaints every year, and the availability of food is the only reason they live in urban settings," a company spokesman told the BBC.
Sam isn’t the only junk food-eating bird. Unfortunately, albatrosses, petrels, gulls, and other birds literally end up eating junk: old lighters, bottle caps, other bits of plastic. The shocking photo featured in the March-April issue illustrates the dangers. It shows the carcass of a Laysan albatross. “A necropsy would reveal as a stomach bulging with and perforated by 12 ounces of indigestible items, mostly plastic debris, scooped up from the ocean’s surface by the chick’s foraging parents and regurgitated into its gaping beak along with squid and other edibles,” Les Line writes. Click here to read more and see the photos taken by David Liittschwager and Susan Middleton.
It’s a problem that’s been around for decades. In 1980, for instance, Bob Day, then a University of Alaska, Fairbanks, grad student reported that “Almost 25% of individual seabirds examined have contained plastic pellets or fragments of plastic which they have picked up from the surface of the ocean. In some species the frequency of contaminated birds is frightening; 83% of the Short-tailed Shearwaters and 75% of the Parakeet Auklets examined contained plastic particles.”
The issue has received more awareness in recent years, particularly with the discovery of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch—a floating soup of plastic that may contain 100 million tons of flotsam. To put it another way, researchers estimate that for every pound of surface zooplankton in the North Pacific, there’s there are six pounds of plastic. Birds and marine animals mistake the trash for food; Plastic waste kills up to 1 million sea birds,100,000 sea mammals and countless fish, the United Nations Environment Programme estimates. This summer, researchers from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute are planning a research cruise to investigate the lesser-known North Atlantic garbage patch.
To find out what you can do to protect our oceans and coasts, and the wildlife that depend on them, click here to go to the EPA’s website.
By the way, Sam isn’t the only thieving animal. Video surveillance captured a dog enter a Smith's Food & Drug in Murray, Utah, head straight to the pet food aisle, grab a bone worth $2.79, and make a clean getaway, MSNBC reported. He remains at large.