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“Pirate of the Seas,” the Great Skua, is declining sharply as a result of avian flu.

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The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has revealed a dramatic drop in the great skua population, which is known as the “pirate of the seas,” and has linked it to avian flu.

According to the RSPB analysis, there will be a startling 76% decrease in the number of great skuas in 2023 compared to their historically rising numbers. The avian flu epidemic has not only negatively affected great skua populations but also gannet and roseate tern populations, with thousands of wild birds dying from the virus in 2021–2022.

When the H5N1 strain of the avian flu was discovered in wild birds in 2021, it caused a wave of deaths in avian populations. According to an RSPB survey carried out in May and July 2023, avian flu was the cause of the fall in great skuas, gannets, and roseate terns; it may have also impacted sandwich and common terns.

Considering that nearly all of the UK’s population lives in Scotland, the reduction of great skuas is very concerning. More than 2,500 great skuas died in 2022 alone; 1,400 of them were lost from one colony on Foula island in Shetland. The population of the United Kingdom has decreased from 9,088 to just 2,160.

The seriousness of the problem was emphasized by Jean Duggan, RSPB’s assistant for avian influenza policy, who also emphasized that avian flu is one of the biggest immediate dangers to the conservation of several seabird species. She emphasized the importance of the UK protecting these birds because many of them breed there and the worldwide impact of local conservation initiatives.

The paper also listed other dangers that seabirds in the UK face, such as food scarcity, offshore wind developments, mortality from fishing, and climate change.

Although the UK has recently seen a decrease in the severity of avian flu, it is still a long-term threat with potential worldwide consequences. The discovery of the virus in unexpected places—among elephant and fur seals in Antarctica, for example—highlights the necessity of ongoing surveillance and preventative actions to lessen the virus’s spread and effects on bird populations.

The RSPB’s results highlight the need for coordinated conservation efforts to protect these iconic species and their ecosystems, and they serve as a clear call to action for immediate action to address the many issues affecting UK seabirds.

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