On a recent trip in early June, we had a few extra “little crew members” join us. Four pintado petrels joined us on the vessel when they got entangled with some of the fishing gear and got a bit greasy. Washing, feeding and caring for these four little birds proved to be an excellent platform for me to teach many of the crew onboard the vessel a few of the very important facts relating to seabird biology and their survival.
First came the washing and one of the crew had to help me clean two of the birds. Through this I was able to explain to some of the crew around us (and even later during the trip) how important the waterproofing of their feathers is. I related this to us taking a shower and washing all the natural oils off our bodies, the same way I was washing these birds, but that unlike us having our natural oils restored by the next day, they could take up to a week or two to be waterproof (or naturally oiled) again. I was also able to explain that the waterproofing is like an invisible bubble around their bodies keeping them dry, that it is vital to their survival and that without it they could die of hypothermia.
Then when it came time to feed and hydrate the pintados, I needed more help and many more of the crew got involved in this process. Many of the crew had never been up close to a seabird before and now I was sitting in-front of them holding one in my hands. I was able to show them that these birds, although wild, are fragile and needed to be handled with care. They learnt that although these birds sit on the sea surface and feed at their own free will, if they are injured or being cared for like these ones, they have to be tube fed, they will not pick up a piece of fish put in front of them.
The entire crew was totally awe struck by these four little visitors and very happily got involved in trying to save them in any way that they could. I was so touched by the genuine concern and interest shown by these tough, hardy men for such small little creatures. It was very difficult caring for these birds and I couldn’t have done it without the fantastic support of everyone onboard.