When you think of the ocean, do you think of whales, dolphins, fish, and coral? Don’t forget the seabirds!

Your National Marine Sanctuary System is home to immense bird populations. Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands is home to over 14 million seabirds representing 22 species, including the Laysan albatross (above). At roughly 66 years old, Wisdom the albatross is the oldest known bird in the world – and she recently laid an egg!

(Photo: Kristina McOmber/Kupu Conservation Leadership Program & U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

California’s national marine sanctuaries are also home to huge numbers of seabirds, which come to these productive waters to feed and breed. More than 250,000 seabirds breed in Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, and Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary is home to nearly 70 different bird species!

A tufted puffin in Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary. (Photo: Sophie Webb/NOAA)

Beyond the fact that seabirds are just generally cool, they’re also important indicators of ecosystem health. In Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary off of Cape Cod, scientists track shearwaters in order to better understand a tiny fish called the sand lance, which is a food source for many different Stellwagen visitors, including humpback whales. Because seabirds are more visible than small aquatic species like sand lance, they are far easier to track, and can help sanctuary researchers understand ecosystem changes as they happen.

A great shearwater in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. (Photo: Peter Flood)

Like many marine species, seabirds face a number of threats. Marine debris, for one, can look an awful lot like food, so trash can choke or starve birds that mistake it for a meal. By reducing the amount of plastic you use and by participating in beach clean-ups near you, you can help protect these important and amazing animals!

A great frigatebird (‘iwa in Hawaiian) balances on driftwood in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.

What steps will you take to protect seabirds? 

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