An albatross chick must peck on the parent’s bill to stimulate feeding. The parent will regurgitate a delicious meal made up of food that was picked up on the last flight out to sea, mixed with stomach oil, an energy-rich substance formed in the stomach from ingested food. The checks get their water from this mixture. One favorite food item is flying fish eggs. Flying fish tend to lay their eggs near seaweed or other floating objects, which unfortunately includes increasing amounts of plastic. The eggs have long filaments that wrap around these things. A parent may pick up plastic that is attached to the eggs, then regurgitate it for the chick. A young chick cannot vomit for the first few months, then he can throw up a “bolus,” a mass of indigestible objects. The bolus usually contains squid beaks, but may also have bottle caps, fishing line, plastic cigarette lighters, even a toothbrush. The chicks whose stomachs are not too full of plastic will be able to hold enough food in their stomachs for survival, until they are old enough to expel the bolus. Sometimes a chick is fed so much plastic that it fills the stomach, so there is no room for food. The chick can die of dehydration. In addition, sharp objects may puncture the chick’s digestive tract. Huge masses of plastic float on the Pacific Ocean and are a threat to the welfare of these albatrosses.
My sister and I once came upon a chick who was making a strange noise, and the parent was sitting near the nest vocalizing. There was a bit of plastic line coming out of the chick’s mouth. He was choking on something. I pulled a tiny bit on the end of the line, and it was not stuck on anything; the danger in pulling it out would be if there was a hook tied to it. I was able to pull it all out. It was over a foot of fishing line that was covered in flying fish eggs. The parent had fed it to the chick, who was unable to regurgitate it and was choking. It was pure luck that made us walk by that nest then.
In spite of all of these dangers, the great majority of the chicks will survive and fledge. So I will close this post with a little film of a chick on the golf course enjoying his dinner. Bon appétit, little guy!