Could Lasers Protect Seabirds in Hawaii From Power Line Collisions?

Source: Hakai Magazine/Ashley Braun - June 16, 2017 in Environment

Could Lasers Protect Seabirds in Hawaii From Power Line Collisions?
Photo: USFWS/Wikimedia Commons (CC0)

When a seabird zipping through Hawai‘i’s night sky hits a power line, you can hear it.

“They make this Star Wars-esque laser sound, like tawong-wow-ow-ow,” says ornithologist André Raine, mimicking the noise playfully before turning more serious. “When you know what it is, it’s unpleasant.”

The birds aren’t being electrocuted—they’re too small to close the circuit between neighboring lines—but they are being hurt, and potentially killed, by the collision, which makes a distinct sound. Raine and his colleagues at the Kaua‘i Endangered Seabird Recovery Project have recording devices dotted about the island to capture the sound.

Measuring the sound gives the scientists an idea of the scale of the problem—and how to fix it. This is particularly important for Newell’s shearwaters and Hawai‘ian petrels, endangered seabirds found only in Hawai‘i. In the recent past, the birds were so abundant their flocks darkened the sky. But between 1993 and 2013, the Hawai‘ian petrel population dropped by 78 percent and Newell’s shearwaters declined by 94 percent, says Raine. “The birds are doing really badly, and power line collisions and light attraction are certainly some of the key threats.”

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