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November 2006 Table of Contents

 
 

Nature Nugget: New Champion in Avian Migration
By David Arbour

The sooty shearwater is a pelagic seabird that spends its whole life at sea, only coming ashore once a year to breed.  It belongs to a group of birds known as tubenoses, named for tubular nostrils on top of their bills used to drain excess salt from their bodies.  Sooty shearwaters are dark grayish-brown and are around 16 inches in length with a 43-inch wingspan.  They are one of the most abundant birds in the world with an estimated population of 20 million.  They are expert gliders, riding the winds inches above the water’s surface in search of food.  Their diet consists mainly of fish, squid, and krill which they pick off the surface of the water or occasionally dive under for.  There are two populations in the world—an Atlantic population which breeds on islands off southern South America and winters in the north Atlantic, and a Pacific population which breeds in New Zealand and winters in three distinct areas of the north Pacific. 

Recently, scientists fitted 33 sooty shearwaters with electronic tags to record data such as position, air temperature, and diving depth while feeding.  The 6-gram (about 22-ounce) electronic tags were placed on the shearwaters after they were captured in their breeding burrows in New Zealand.  A year later, 20 of the tags were recovered with 19 providing a full record of the distances traveled.  The data from these tags showed that the sooty shearwaters travel the Pacific Ocean in a massive figure-of-eight pattern during their migration every year.  Their migration paths covered the whole of the Pacific region and took about 200 days to complete.  The shearwaters’ journeys took them from their breeding colonies in New Zealand to winter feeding grounds off Japan, Alaska, or California.  Some even stopped off on the western coast of South America on the way.  During this migration, the sooty shearwaters traveled a maximum distance of up to 40,000 miles and up to 565 miles per day, setting a new record for the longest animal migration known.  This record was formerly held by the Arctic Tern, which travels 22,000 miles annually during its migration between the polar ice caps.  The data from the tags also showed that the shearwaters dived to an average depth of 46 feet while feeding and could dive as deep as 225 feet.

Someday soon, if we are faithful, we will be long distance travelers also, but on a universal scale.  “Many seem to have the idea that this world and the heavenly mansions constitute the universe of God.  Not so.  The redeemed throng will range from world to world, and much of their time will be employed in searching out the mysteries of redemption.” 

“Ellen G. White Comments,” Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 7, 990.  “All the treasures of the universe will be open to the study of God’s redeemed.  Unfettered by mortality, they wing their tireless flights to worlds afar—worlds that thrilled with sorrow at the spectacle of human woe and rang with songs of gladness at the tidings of a ransomed soul.  With unutterable delight the children of earth enter into the joy and the wisdom of unfallen beings.  They share the treasures of knowledge and understanding gained through ages upon ages in contemplation of God’s handiwork.  With undimmed vision they gaze upon the glory of creation—suns and stars and systems, all in their appointed order circling the throne of Deity.  Upon all things, from least to greatest, the Creator’s name is written, and in all are the riches of His power displayed.”  The Great Controversy, 677, 678.

November 2006 Table of Contents

 

       
 

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