Dozens of dead shearwaters found in Port Fairy for fourth year in a row

Dozens of dead juvenile short-tailed shearwaters have been found strewn across a lawn outside a popular tourist attraction in south-west Victoria for a fourth straight year. 

The short-tailed shearwater, or mutton bird, is one of Australia’s most common and hardy birds.

Each year the birds clock up more than 32,000 kilometres, following the warm weather between the northern and southern hemispheres as they chase an “eternal summer”.

Dozens of juvenile short-tailed shearwaters were this week found strewn across a lawn near a popular breeding ground at Griffiths Island in Port Fairy, three-and-a-half hours west from Melbourne.

The cause of death remains unknown, and Victoria’s Department of Environment and Moyne Shire Council have been notified.  

History repeating?

Port Fairy’s short-tailed shearwater population has endured a horror run over the past four years. 

Alarm bells were raised in 2019 when the 40,000-strong colony was uncharacteristically late to arrive to its south-west home.

A significant number of shearwater deaths were recorded that summer and again in 2020.

Things were looking brighter last year, with colony numbers bouncing back before this weekend’s latest kill.

It is understood the juvenile birds were expected to leave the island this week to follow their parents north to Alaska for the summer. 

Dead birds on a lawn
The juvenile shearwater carcasses were found on a lawn outside the entrance pathway to Griffiths Island.(Supplied: Alice Henderson)

The Moyne Shire Council sent staff to collect the birds on Sunday. 

“It’s understood artificial light may have an impact on the fledglings,” a council spokesperson said.

“As such, council has taken steps to reduce artificial light in the area around Griffiths Island.

“The light in the rotunda at the entrance to the island causeway will be switched off until after the fledglings have migrated.”

The council is also investigating if other lighting in the area can be lowered or switched off during fledging, while still ensuring safety of the public.

The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning was unable to be reached for comment.  

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