Photo/IllutrationStreaked shearwater (Provided by the Atmosphere and Ocean Research Institute at the University of Tokyo)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Streaked shearwaters can reach their destination without side winds throwing them off course even when flying long distances over the open ocean apparently thanks to GPS-like capabilities, a Japanese research team has discovered.

The migratory birds are believed to possess the ability to keep track of their location as if they have their own inner “global positioning system,” according to the team of scientists at the University of Tokyo and Nagoya University.

“We have no clue as to exactly where we are when we go out to the ocean for the research,” said Yusuke Goto, a student at the University of Tokyo’s graduate school. “We were stunned by streaked shearwaters’ ability.”

The team tracked down streaked shearwaters that travel up to 500 kilometers to hunt for food off Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost main island, from their nests on Funakoshi-Oshima island in Yamada, Iwate Prefecture, on the main island of Honshu.

Goto and other researchers fitted 31 birds with the GPS tag to gather data during their flight.

The team’s analysis of data on their flight back to the island and on wind in the area recorded by the Japan Meteorological Agency found that the birds flew almost in a straight line.

Streaked shearwaters adjusted their position in response to the direction of crosswind each time it blew to mitigate the wind’s impact.

The birds apparently also rely on their ability to identify their position when they migrate to Southeast Asia and off Australia to winter there, according to the researchers.

There is a theory that seabirds are able to gather information on the direction and their location by smelling the air over the ocean.

But that theory is not definitive, yet.

The team’s report was carried in the online edition of Science Advances, a U.S. academic journal, on Sept. 27.