New seabird discovered, first in 55 years

Jeremy Hance
March 23, 2011

Stephen Maturin, if he were not fictional, would be delighted. A new seabird has been discovered by an international expedition headed by one of the world's top seabird-experts, Peter Harrison, after he received photos from vacationing birders of an unusual looking storm petrel off the coast of Chile.

During the expedition, Harrison and his team were successful in photographing hundreds of the unknown species as well as taking measurements and collecting feathers and blood samples from captured birds. The materials are now being analyzed, but Harrison does not doubt the eventual outcome.

"We're waiting on the feather and blood work, but we know we have a new species," he told the Oregonian.

If it is a new species, it's the first new seabird in 55 years, and the first new storm petrel identified in nearly 90.

Sparrow-sized, storm petrels are the smallest of the seabirds. They hover over the water while feeding on fish and plankton, which gives them the name 'Jesus-birds' according to Harrison. The new species is black, white, and gray.

"We believe this is a relic population that was completely missed by Darwin himself, who sailed along that very coast a century ago," Harrison told the LA Times. "And guess what? There are thousands of them in that area, which is plied by cruise ships, cargo vessels and fishing boats, all within sight of crowded beaches."

If the tests determine that it is in fact a species, the only question will be what to name it?

Note: Stephen Maturin is a character from the Aubrey/Maturin novels by Patrick O'Brian (also the novels are the basis for the film Master in Commander where Maturin is protrayed by Paul Bettamy). Maturin is a passionate naturalist with a particular affinity for seabirds.

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Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com (March 23, 2011).

New seabird discovered, first in 55 years.