Muttonbirds are not radioactive 


Muttonbirders heading south for the annual harvest can be assured that the titi (muttonbirds) they catch are safe to eat.

Adult muttonbirds (sooty shearwaters) migrate to the North Pacific between May and September. Some may have been exposed to radioactive fallout from the crippled Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Muttonbirds are top predators in the marine food chain, feeding on krill, squid and small fish. Those that fed in seas east of Japan while on migration in 2011 will have been exposed to radioactive isotopes of cesium that accumulate in the food chain. Muttonbirders were concerned that some of this contamination could have been passed on to chicks reared during the 2011-12 breeding season.

The Rakiura Titi Committee working in collaboration with Te Papa and Landcare Research arranged for a total of 30 ‘pre-season’ muttonbirds to be collected from two of the muttonbird islands off Stewart Island earlier this month. The chicks were prepared as if they were to be eaten, and then sent to the National Radiation Laboratory for analysis. No radioactive contamination was detected in any of the samples.

“This is great news for the muttonbirders” Rakiura Titi Committee chairman Stewart Bull said. “We are going through tough times following the Easy Rider tragedy. News that the titi are safe to capture and eat gives us all reason to think more positively about the season ahead”.

Visit NZ Birds Online to find out more about New Zealand's birds.

For more information contact:

Dr Colin Miskelly, Curator Terrestrial Vertebrates, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

  • 19 March: wk 04 381 7301, hm 04 972 1131, cell 021 266 2211
  • 20 March am: (en route to Stewart Island) 021 266 2211
  • 20 March pm – 22 March c/- Bay Motel, Stewart Island 03 219 1119


Stewart Bull, Chair, Rakiura Titi Committee             021 222 4643