Plastic smells like supper for some seabirds. When the ubiquitous material ends up in the ocean, it gives off a chemical that petrels, prions and shearwaters often use to locate food, researchers report November 9 in Science Advances. That might lead the birds to ingest harmful junk instead of a real meal.
Researchers at the University of California, Davis let small beads of three common plastics linger off the coast of California. After a few weeks, the once-clean plastic accumulated grit, grime and bacteria that gave off an odiferous gas called dimethyl sulfide (SN: 2/20/16, p. 20). Phytoplankton give off the same gas, and certain seabirds use the odor as a cue that dinner is nearby. Birds that rely more heavily on dimethyl sulfide as a beacon for a nearby meal are more likely to ingest plastic than birds that don’t, the team found. Other marine animals that use the cue could also be fooled.