|Petrel at sea|
Eating plastic debris in the oceans by any sea life who mistake it for food is a major problem for marine conservation. In most cases - such as plastic bags and whales - it resembles a food that they normally eat. But new research found that in some cases it also smells like food.
Seabirds hone in on a specific chemical to locate food. That chemical is dimethyl sulfide (DMS). It is naturally produced by phytoplankton when crustaceans, squid and other small marine animals are feeding.
In a cruel twist, DMS is also produced by the algae that colonize pieces of plastic floating in the ocean.
Researchers tested three common plastics left in the ocean for three weeks and every bead contained a DMS signature above the threshold detectable by birds. The researchers looked at tube-nosed seabirds, that includes albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters, and they were all attracted to DMS, but they feel it is likely other marine predators use the same mechanism to find prey.