22 Oct 2013

Te Papa scientists dissect hundreds of seabirds

6:29 pm on 22 October 2013

Almost 900 seabirds are being dissected at the national museum, Te Papa, in Wellington.

The dissection is part of an effort to discover if a major storm in 2011 put a long-term dent in the population of prions, also known as whalebirds.

About 300,000 prions washed up dead or dying on the west coast of the North Island during the storm.

The scientists are carrying out the dissection of 880 birds to determine their age and sex and to allow them to estimate the damage the storm did to the population.

So far, they have discovered that 90% of the birds were of one species, mostly from breeding colonies near Stewart Island.

Mutton birders on the islands say 90% of the prions seem to have been wiped out,

The researchers say given they only lay one egg a year, they could take a long time to recover. However, they say there are still millions of prions in the Southern Ocean, so they're in no danger of going extinct.

The dissections were broadcast online on Tuesday so schoolchildren could watch and ask questions using social media.