January 11, 2015 at 10:37 pm #3346MikeKeymaster
North American Pacific Coast sea bird die-off puzzles scientists
SALEM, Oregon (AP) — Scientists are trying to figure out what’s behind the deaths of seabirds that have been found by the hundreds along the Pacific Coast since October.
Mass die-offs of the small, white-bellied gray birds known as Cassin’s aucklets have been reported from British Columbia to San Luis Obispo, California.
It’s normal for some seabirds to die during harsh winter conditions, especially during big storms, but the scale of the current die-off is unusual.
“To be this lengthy and geographically widespread, I think is kind of unprecedented,” Phillip Johnson, executive director of the Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition, told the Salem Statesman Journal. “It’s an interesting and somewhat mysterious event.”
The birds appear to be starving to death, so experts don’t believe a toxin is the culprit, said Julia Burco, a wildlife veterinarian for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
But why the birds can’t find food is a mystery.
Researchers say it could be the result of a successful breeding season, leading to too many young birds competing for food. Unusually violent storms might be pushing the birds into areas they’re not used to or preventing them from foraging. Or a warmer, more acidic ocean could be affecting the supply of tiny zooplankton, such as krill, that the birds eat.
The U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center in Wisconsin is conducting additional necropsies on dead birds, researchers said.
Robert Ollikainen of Tillamook, Oregon, found 132 dead birds on the beach there, including 126 Cassin’s auklets on Dec. 26. “It was pretty dramatic,” Ollikainen said.January 11, 2015 at 10:43 pm #3347MikeKeymaster
Unprecedented: ‘Cataclysmic’ die-off of birds on entire West Coast —
Beaches covered with dead bodies —
Professor: It’s tragic… never seen anything like this… We ignore it at our peril… Canary in the coalmine for us… Scrambling to figure out what’s going on with ecosystem
Published: January 8th, 2015 at 7:33 pm ET
Statesman Journal, Jan 2, 2015 (emphasis added): Why is the beach covered in dead birds?… “I’ve never seen that many before”… a mass die-off [is] going on along the entire West Coast… “To be this lengthy and geographically widespread, I think is kind of unprecedented,” [said Phillip Johnson of the Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition].
Oregonian, Jan 6, 2015: Dave Nuzum, a wildlife biologist… said his office continues to field calls from concerned beach-goers who come across a grisly scene: Common murres and Cassin’s auklets dead on the beach in great numbers… Oregon is the cataclysm’s epicenter… He doesn’t expect the crush of deaths to let up any time soon… [It’s] up to 100 times greater than normal annual death rates.
Prof. Julia Parrish, Univ. of Washington School of Aquatic & Fishery Science, Jan 6, 2015: This is the worst wreck of cassins auklets that we’ve ever seen on the West Coast… Certainly we are concerned… Is it that there’s less of their food, or perhaps that food has changed its distribution?… How many cassins may actually be suffering in this particular mortality event? We’re working with oceanographers and atmospheric scientists to try and discover whether there’s something in the environment which is signaling a difference, signaling a change.
Prof. Parrish #2, Jan 6, 2015: We’re seeing some adults wash up… The bumper crop [born this year] can’t quite explain [this]… We’re easily seeing tens of thousands, if not actually more… Normally [they] can exist out in the N. Pacific [far] from the coastline over the winter. We think that the population for some reason has snugged up to the coast… Unfortunately the cassins are the canary in the coalmine for us, so they’re telling us something is going on. To put it mildly, we’re still scrambling to figure out what’s going on with the ecosystem… Of course, everybody always wants to point the finger at climate change. The thing about climate change is it’s a very slow, steady change.
CBC, Jan 7, 2014: More than 100,000 carcasses… have been found… up to 100 times the normal number are washing ashore… “It’s a tragic event… We have never seen a die-off of Cassin’s like this, so that in and of itself says something” [said Parrish].
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