8 min read

Guy Spots Rare Bird In Middle Of Ocean — Then Sees What He's Eating

This keeps happening 😢

It was another day on the water in August for long-distance swimmer Ben Lecomte — until he noticed someone magnificent landing in the ocean right next to him.

It was a black-footed albatross, a rare and incredibly large seabird who spend nearly their entire lives without setting foot on land. The wild bird bumped Ben with his beak as he swam by, likely curious to know what he and his boat crew were doing there, 620 miles off the coast of Japan.

To the crew’s excitement, it wasn’t long before more of the huge birds landed and began skimming the water’s surface for food. But the magical moment quickly turned south when the group realized what the birds were trying to eat: a large piece of plastic floating in the water.

A crew member rushed in to retrieve it from the birds, but minutes later, several more pieces had floated in.

“We had to shout at [the bird we nicknamed] Albi, because he was going for a piece of plastic instead of prey,” Paul Lecomte, Ben's nephew and the expedition manager, told The Dodo. “Albi is not good at telling the difference between life and plastic, and we found out that he is very attracted by colorful debris. Every time we saw him going for a plastic meal, we reacted with a big ‘No!’”

Albatross are said to be a very good omen for sailors, but that day, it was the birds who had luck on their sides. Since this species hunts at the water’s surface, they are especially vulnerable to accidentally eating plastic debris. Over time, impacted trash in their stomachs will kill them.

The group of albatross in the water | Instagram/Ben Lecomte

“We can't help but think about how many plastic meals Albi and all the other Albis have when we are not around,” Paul said. “The first thing that comes to mind is this series of pictures of dead Albis from Midway Islands, where it seems their skeleton is made up of all the colorful plastic pieces filling their stomach. Now we have seen the first chapter of this sad story: Albi chasing debris, not knowing he might die of a plastic overdose and end up in a similar photo.”

The body of an albatross killed by plastic litter | Flickr/Sparkle Motion

Now, the crew, who ran into the birds while sailing and filming for the original Seeker series “The Swim,” which documents Ben Lecomte’s attempted swim across the Pacific Ocean from Japan to San Francisco, can only hope that the animals will be OK on their own. Unfortunately, as they follow Lecomte’s journey, the crew is constantly seeing reminders of just how littered these waters have become.

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Ben with a spoon he found in the ocean | Instagram/Ben Lecomte

Ben usually swims eight hours each day, and a good portion of the attempted 5,500-mile trip so far has already been spent cleaning up trash and freeing animals from debris.

“We saw plastic bottles and nets floating next to whales, and almost every big piece of debris is a home for multiple fish and crabs — like a toxic coral reef,” Paul said. “Every time we see trash on our way, if the conditions are favorable, either Ben swims to it or we retrieve it with our boat hook to [our boat] Seeker.”

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A pile of tangled nets and rope floating in the ocean | Instagram/Ben Lecomte

The crew finds so much litter simply because items like balloons, fishing line and rope never fully break down once they reach the ocean; rather, they separate over time into miniscule pieces of debris called microplastics. Years’ worth of these tiny particles can become deadly to animals like sea turtles or whale sharks, who easily ingest plastics by mistake while hunting for food.

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An array of microplastics the team has found on their voyage | Instagram/Ben Lecomte

“We cannot unsee the thousands of floating debris we found on our way,” Paul said. “The entire ocean is plastic and we know very little about the consequences for marine life and for human health. What we do know is where the plastic comes from. It's everywhere in our daily life. We are all addicted to it, and it needs to stop.”

Right now, there are an estimated 150 million metric tons of garbage floating in our oceans. “The Swim” crew hopes that documenting this trash crisis throughout their voyage will not only encourage people to make lifestyle changes, but to also think more about who’s forced to live in these garbage-filled waters: the animals.

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Fish swimming around a discarded plastic crate in the ocean | Instagram/Ben Lecomte

“Every one of the crew share the same mixed feelings when, after being so fortunate to interact with a wild animal in a pristine environment, you see trash floating around,” Paul said. “This plastic is our only contribution to this blue picture, the only trace we leave out there as human. That doesn't feel right.”

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Fish swimming around a large mass of tangled nets | Instagram/Ben Lecomte
Each year, millions of animals are affected by marine pollution — and throughout the nearly 2,000 miles of Ben Lecomte's Pacific Ocean swim, he's seen garbage every day. #JoinTheSwim and raise awareness about these animals here

You can also help animals by avoiding single-use plastics like straws, cutlery, bottles and cups.