The Dominion Post
Bird deaths dim cruise ship lights
Cruise vessels in New Zealand waters are being asked to dim their night lighting to avoid dazzling seabirds after a flock of Buller’s shearwaters flew into the Pacific Jewel last year.
About 70 birds ended up stunned on the deck of the vessel. Some died or were injured when the crew boxed them up together in some large boxes and delivered them to the Department of Conservation (DOC) once the ship berthed in Auckland.
By that time 20 were dead. A further 13 died despite treatment by Bird Rescue, which released the remainder after treatment.
At the time Forest and Bird seabird advocate Karen Baird described the case as ‘‘heart breaking’’ and said seabirds being attracted to lit-up vessels as they passed by their habitat was potentially a huge problem.
DOC principal science adviser Graeme Taylor said bright lights on cruise ships posed a risk to seabirds flying at night in the Hauraki Gulf foraging for food, and to young birds departing from their breeding colonies on their first trip to sea.
Taylor said seabirds also crashed onto fishing boats at night. As cruise ships were regularly off the coast for much of the year going past breeding islands, this was unlikely to be the first and only incident of its kind, he said. ‘‘Presumably crew normally throw any birds they see on the ships overboard.’’ Taylor said DOC was working with the cruise industry to help keep birds safe by reducing lighting and following guidelines for handling birds that end up on ships at night.
‘‘These seabirds have better night vision than humans. But this means they’re more likely to be dazzled by a cruise ship’s lights, especially on foggy overcast nights with no moonlight.’’
Cruise ships were being asked to close blinds or curtains on cabin windows, reduce unnecessary exterior lighting, and try to shield essential deck lights.
DOC is advising crew that birds landing on ships at night should be released over the side if they had no obvious injuries.
Any birds that were stunned or injured should be held one per box so they did not harm each other, and kept cool for release after they had recovered.
DOC or local Bird Rescue staff would collect any more severely injured birds in port.
New Zealand Cruise Association chief executive Kevin O’Sullivan said feedback from the industry had been very positive.
The industry was keen to be involved, he said.
‘‘Officers and crew on cruise ships share their workspace – the ocean – with seabirds and have a genuine commitment to keeping them safe.’’