My laboratory has been studying this problem in a novel context--olfactory foraging at sea by Antarctic procellariiform seabirds (Order Procellariiforms).
Our work expands upon this earlier effort by identifying dimethyl sulfide (DMS) as a specific component of the olfactory landscape that procellariiform seabirds can detect.
Procellariiform seabirds breed on oceanic islands and spend most of their lives at sea.
I speculate that procellariiform seabirds must confront two fundamental problems to forage efficiently.
If procellariiform seabirds can detect DMS, then emissions that last for several days present distinct features in the odor landscape that may indicate locations where foraging is likely to be productive (Berresheim, 1987; Nevitt et al.
The paper "provides a convincing argument for the Procellariiform seabirds
as to why they might pick up plastic from the ocean," said Chris Wilcox, a senior research scientist at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Australia, who was not involved with the new study, in an emailed comment to The Washington Post.