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Scientists announce discovery of new species of seabird, the first in 89 years

March 4, 2011 | 11:28 am

Storm.petrel From photographs taken by noted ornithologist Peter Harrison and reports by members of a five-member multinational expedition, bird watchers are following what for them is the event of a lifetime: the discovery of a new species of seabird.

The existence of the sparrow-sized black and white species of storm petrel was confirmed in February near the coastal community of Puerto Montt, Chile, according to Harrison, who is scheduled to announce the find Friday evening during a banquet ceremony in San Diego hosted by the San Diego Bird Festival/Audubon California Assembly, a gathering of birders and conservationists.

“This is the first new species of storm petrel discovered in 89 years, and the first new species of seabird discovered in 55 years –- and if we had won the lottery we could not feel better," Harrison said in an interview 

“We believe this is a relic population that was completely missed by Darwin himself, who sailed along that very coast a century ago,” Harrison said.

“And guess what? There are thousands of them in that area, which is plied by cruise ships, cargo vessels and fishing boats, all within sight of crowded beaches.”

Researchers at the University of Chile in Santiago are analyzing collected blood samples and feathers to learn more about the birds, where they breed and if they migrate to wintering grounds elsewhere.

“Important discoveries usually happen in remote places like Borneo or the Amazon forests,” said Garry George, chapter network director for Audubon California.

“Not this time," he said. "This bird has been under everyone’s noses in a popular area for decades.”


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Photo: The existence of a sparrow-sized black and white species of storm petrel was confirmed in February near Puerto Montt, Chile. Credit: Peter Harrison / Lynx Seabirds Handbook Project