Have you ever wondered how seabirds survive typhoons? Well, the answer is exactly what you did not expect: by flying straight into them. Talk about an offensive defense strategy!
The science and other stuff to know
According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shearwaters nesting on islands off Japan have learned to survive storms and typhoons by flying near the eye of the storm or floating in the tailwinds around the edges of the storm. The Sea of Japan is close to the world’s most active cyclone basin, the Northwest Pacific.
Seafaring birds have developed various strategies, including bypassing storm routes, to avoid disaster. Professor Emily Shepard, an expert in the movement ecology of wild animals from Swansea University in Wales and her team were curious if all birds used the avoidance methodology and began analyzing 11 years of data collected through GPS from 75 shearwaters nesting on Awashima Island in Japan, a press release explains.
What they discovered was that instead of avoiding the storms, shearwaters caught in a storm far out in the open ocean would fly straight in and ride tailwinds around the storm’s edges.
“We were astonished when we saw from the GPS tracks that shearwaters were flying towards the eye of the storm, and sometimes tracking it for several hours. This is unlike any response to storms that has been seen before in seabirds,” Shepard said.
The shape of shearwaters’ wings allows them to glide for long distances without losing much altitude and by using minimal energy. A further study of their abilities and unique methods for staying safe during calamities could unlock key insights for humans. It could especially be useful in the aviation industry. Delving deeper into such animal behaviors could lead to advancements in in-flight operations and even emergency disaster response.
Disruptions and losses caused by these rare but powerful occurrences could perhaps be mitigated by understanding safety protocols and techniques adopted by shearwaters. Moreover, like with birds, it could offer a way for humans to learn to preserve key resources by harnessing the power of nature.
Shepard said that although the findings were insightful, a much larger amount of data was needed to fully understand the birds’ flight behavior. As climate degradation leads to increasingly stronger and more erratic weather incidents, studying ingenious survival responses from the natural world could be the key to safeguarding the human population.