Ailing seabirds in Alaska – 03/24/2004

  • September 30, 2013 at 3:22 am #382

    Associated Press
    Mar. 24, 2004 01:50 PM

    ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Seabirds called murres are starving all over
    Alaska’s south-central coast, and scientists say they don’t know why.

    Ailing seabirds are dropping onto Valdez streets and parking lots,
    floating into Whittier and washing up on Seward beaches.

    “It’s staggering,” said Verena Gill, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
    biologist, who led a survey of Seward beaches that found 72 dead

    Throughout March, people have been calling wildlife agencies with
    murre sightings.

    Biologists said the common murres are experiencing a major die-off.
    So far, Gill said, all the sightings add up to 1,000-2,000 dead or
    ill murres, and that would be a fraction of the total number.

    Mass deaths happen periodically to murres, which look like little
    penguins, around the world.

    The seabirds are not endangered, though. Perhaps 10 million murres
    live in Alaska waters, said John Piatt, a U.S. Geological Survey
    biologist who documented a 1993 die-off. In that instance, more than
    100,000 birds died, Piatt said.

    In 1998, a smaller die-off occurred, apparently confined to Cook
    Inlet, he said.

    Common murres are about 17 inches tall, with dark brown coloring on
    their backs and heads and white bellies. They weigh 2.2 pounds when
    healthy. They waddle on land, but are phenomenal deepwater divers.
    Their primary food source is herring.

    Scientists haven’t figured out what is causing the starvation. It
    could be a combination of bad weather and scarcity of fish, Piatt

    “The fish may move off or move deeper. They (the murres) are making a
    living out there in the open ocean all winter long,” he said. “They
    have to feed pretty much every day.”

    The Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward has rescued 18 birds – some just
    60 percent of their average body weight – and hopes to learn more
    about what’s causing the deaths, said center rehabilitation
    technician Tim Lebling.

    The Fish and Wildlife Service will also send some dead birds to a
    USGS lab in Madison, Wis., which investigates unusual die-offs. The
    Madison group will look for toxins, parasites and diseases, Gill said.

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