An albatross died with a 500ml plastic water bottle in its stomach after being found in an awful condition on a Hawke's Bay beach.

Members of the public found the bird in an emaciated condition recently at Whirinaki Beach.

The Department of Conservation (DoC) said the juvenile toroa/southern royal albatross was taken to Wildlife Base, Palmerston North, where it died a few days after.

A 500ml plastic bottle, as well as the remains of a balloon, was found in the bird's stomach after an autopsy conducted by Massey University.

The 500ml plastic bottle found in the stomach of a juvenile albatross. Photo / Wildbase
The 500ml plastic bottle found in the stomach of a juvenile albatross. Photo / Wildbase

The results of the autopsy suggest starvation was a likely cause of death, with the plastic items obstructing the stomach and likely causing pain.

Albatross sightings are rare in Hawke's Bay, especially so close to the beach.

DoC Hawke's Bay Senior Ranger Community Chris Wootton said: "Toroa can live for around 40 years, so this is a very tragic and premature ending to this young bird's life."

"They're rarely found near land, which is just a further indication that the bird was unhealthy. We're very grateful to the members of the public who sought help for the bird when they found it."

DoC said plastic was a major emerging threat to seabirds globally, with 90 per cent of all seabirds having eaten plastic.

A balloon was also found in the albatross's stomach. Photo / Wildbase
A balloon was also found in the albatross's stomach. Photo / Wildbase

This plastic can't be digested and sits in the stomach, and sometimes leads to death by dehydration or starvation.

The body of the toroa will be returned to Ngāti Tangoio, the local iwi near Whirinaki.

DoC Ranger Sharyn Broni, based at Pukekura/Taiaroa Head, said every year millions of tonnes of plastic makes its way into oceans, in addition to the plastic already circulating.


"In the 2018/19 breeding season, we collected the regurgitations of northern royal albatross chicks and plastic fragments were found in 14 of the 16 regurgitations," he said.

"This plastic has been consumed at sea by the parents and then fed to the chicks in the colony at Pukekura/Taiaroa Head and included items like branded bottle lids and infant formula scoops.

Broni added: "Albatrosses and other seabirds can be tricked into eating plastic. Sometimes it can look like food, and the algae that grows on it in the ocean can also make it smell like food is near."

James Lyver, Kaiwhakahaere Matua General Manager of the Maungaharuru-Tangitū Trust, said the death should act as a warning.

"The toroa is a taonga species so it is pōuri (devastating) that this one did not survive. Its death could be seen as a tohu (warning) to remind us humans of our kaitiakitanga responsibilities.

"We all need to address the plastic pollution in our moana."


Helen Howard, found of Plog Napier, an environmental conservation organisation which participates in a combination of picking up litter and jogging, is calling on the government to change its policies on single use plastics.

"New Zealand is considered the seabird capital of the world and seabirds are more at risk of dying due to plastic in New Zealand than anywhere else in the world," she said.

"Of course the most obvious solution would be not to litter, but everything in the gutters on our streets ends up in the ocean.

"A ban on single use plastic unless it's unavoidable would be my wish, but that type of policy needs to be applied at a government level."

According to Howard, 90 per cent of our northern sea birds are threatened with extinction due to the plastic crisis.

"In the mean time I'd suggest avoiding single use plastic and picking up litter when you see it," she said.


"I personally don't buy any beverages in plastic, only in glass, as plastic is not infinitely recyclable unlike glass.

"It can only be recycled once or twice and then it ends up in landfill for 400 or so years."

Minister of Conservation and Associate Minister for the Environment Eugenie Sage said that the incident was tragic and highlights the importance of reducing the amount of plastic in nature.

"We've already banned single use plastic shopping bags and working on other unnecessary plastics," she said.

"We need to reduce plastic use, make sure those we use are collected and reused or reprocessed to keep them out of streams and oceans."