Shearwater’s Astonishing Typhoon Journey Spans 11 Hours and 1,000 Miles

Seabirds, known for their remarkable abilities to navigate the open sea, often face the challenges of unpredictable weather conditions. In 2019, an astonishing event unfolded when a streaked shearwater seabird embarked on an 11-hour, 1,000-mile journey through the heart of Typhoon Faxai, a powerful typhoon over southeastern Japan.

Kozue Shiomi, a seabird biologist from Tohoku University, equipped 14 adult streaked shearwaters with GPS bio-loggers as part of a study on the species’ homing behavior, reports Science Daily. One of these birds found itself in a harrowing situation when Typhoon Faxai struck southeastern Japan in September of the same year.

While most of the tracked shearwaters appeared to either avoid or circumvent the storm, one male shearwater was not as fortunate.

The streaked shearwater seabird is known for its homing behavior.
Photo: Pexels
The streaked shearwater seabird is known for its homing behavior.

Over an intense 11-hour period, the GPS tag recorded five full circular loops, with diameters ranging from 50 to 80 kilometers, covering a total distance of 1,146 kilometers, or approximately 712 miles. To put this feat in perspective, under normal conditions, streaked shearwaters typically fly at speeds of 10-60 kilometers per hour at altitudes below 100 meters while over the open sea, New Atlas reports.

An Unprecedented Journey

The male shearwater caught in the typhoon defied these norms, reaching astonishing speeds of 90-170 kilometers per hour and soaring to an altitude of 4,700 meters (15,420 feet). This incredible journey took the bird over mainland Japan before the typhoon retreated into the Pacific Ocean, Tech Times reports. While it’s uncertain if the seabird had the option to escape the typhoon, it seems to have chosen to ride it out until returning to the ocean.

Researchers equipped 14 adult shearwaters with GPS bio-loggers in 2019.
Photo: Pexels
Researchers equipped 14 adult shearwaters with GPS bio-loggers in 2019.

Facing the Elements

Streaked shearwaters are birds adapted to a life at sea, and they usually fly at very low altitudes, an efficient strategy for open-sea flight but one that puts them at higher risk of collisions with buildings, power lines, and vehicles when over land, reports Cosmos Magazine. Furthermore, they struggle on solid ground and encounter difficulties taking off, making them vulnerable to predation.

Survival Strategies

Pelagic birds, like streaked shearwaters, employ various tactics to evade turbulent storms. Some species, such as red-footed boobies and great frigatebirds, take to the skies and ascend to high altitudes, allowing storms to pass below them. In contrast, Eastern brown pelicans opt to stay grounded until conditions improve. Some birds even choose to remain within the eye of the storm, where winds are relatively calmer.

The storm took the bird over mainland Japan before retreating into the Pacific Ocean.
Photo: Pexels
The storm took the bird over mainland Japan before retreating into the Pacific Ocean.

Climate Change and Seabird Resilience

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, as the world experiences rising temperatures and increased surface-water temperatures, storms in oceanic regions are anticipated to become more frequent and intense. This raises important questions about the ability of oceangoing birds to withstand these powerful storms, which are predicted to become more common. Understanding how these remarkable birds cope with extreme weather conditions is crucial to assessing their resilience in the face of an ever-changing environment driven by climate change.

The incredible journey of the streaked shearwater caught in Typhoon Faxai provides a glimpse into the remarkable resilience of oceangoing birds in the face of severe weather conditions. As our world continues to grapple with the impacts of climate change, it’s essential to study and appreciate the adaptability and tenacity of these remarkable seabirds as they navigate the challenges of our changing planet.

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