Seabirds on the other hand, are usually not thought of as marine creatures, but indeed they are. Birds, particularly in the order Procellariiformes, are highly marine, spending almost all of their lives roaming the open ocean, returning to land only to raise their young. Birds in this order include albatrosses, shearwaters, petrels and their relatives.
Seabirds too, have captured the imagination of seafarers. The early explorers, rolling in stormy seas in their small sailing ships, searching for new lands, wealth and fame, marveled at the freedom and ease with which the albatross flew across the waves. All this in apparent disregard for the screaming winds that threatened to tear the sails from the masts. It was considered bad luck to kill an albatross for it was believed they contained the souls of seamen lost at sea. The epic 18th century poem "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge relates the tragic consequences a seaman suffers after he kills one of these great birds.
My work aboard the NOAA Ship MALCOLM BALDRIGE is to find, identify and count all of the birds which pass within a 300 meter wide patch of ocean in front of and to one side of the bow of the ship. This is done at the same time as my colleagues are watching a much larger area for marine mammals. The reason why I concentrate on a much smaller area is to ensure that all birds that are there are seen. Many birds are small and dark brown and very hard to see as they quickly fly through my observation zone. We want to determine how many of each kind are living where and it is very important that none are missed. In addition, the distribution of seabirds in the Indian Ocean is very poorly known and we will add more information on where many seabirds live when they're not on their nesting gounds.
When you look at the ocean, it looks the same no matter where you look. For the birds which live out here, differences in the water's properties, such as temperature, salinity, chlorophyll, and plankton content are very important to them. By mapping where we see different kinds of birds, we will be able to determine which areas are important and in need of further work or protection from pollution.
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