National Geographic, Jan 23, 2015 (emphasis added): Mass Death of Seabirds in Western U.S. Is ‘Unprecedented’… [It's] becoming one of the largest mass die-offs of seabirds ever recorded… about Halloween, thousands of juvenile auklets started washing ashore… Since then the deaths haven’t stopped. Researchers are wondering if the die-off might spread to other birds or even fish. The gruesome auklet deaths come just as scientists around the globe are seeing a significant uptick in mass-mortality events in the marine world, from sea urchins to fish and birds. Although there doesn’t appear to be a link to the virus that killed tens of millions of sea stars along the same shores… some scientists suspect a factor in both cases may be uncharacteristically warm waters… At first scientists weren’t too surprised by the carcasses washing ashore… But they now are perplexed by the sheer numbers of dead birds and the spreading geographic extent of the die-off… By comparison, not one of the five largest U.S. bird mortality events tracked by USGS since 1980 is estimated to have topped 11,000 deaths. In Europe… the worst die-off on record [was] 57,000… On some beaches the Cassin’s auklet death toll was a hundred times greater than any bird die-off ever… and six times worse per kilometer than the body count recorded after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill… Research in the waters off Oregon already has shown that some of the tiny crustaceans at the bottom of the marine food chain were replaced by smaller species… It’s still not clear [if] changing climate contributed to any of these shifts.
Julia Parrish, Univ. of Washington seabird ecologist overseeing a survey team tracking seabird deaths: “This is just massive, massive, unprecedented… We may be talking about 50,000 to 100,000 deaths so far [estimated total population is between 1,000,000 and 3,500,000]… Death at this level and over this much real estate has to be from more than just [lack of food].”
David Nuzum, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife: “I’ve never seen anything like this, ever, and I’ve been here since 1985.”
Mike Szumski, US Fish & Wildlife Service biologist: “You’d find them piled up in clusters… every now and then we’d… find a bird that was just barely clinging to life. They were just skin and bones.”
Bonnie Wood, patrols beaches for dead birds: “It’s so distressing… They’re just everywhere.”
Bill Sydeman, senior scientist at California’s Farallon Institute: “I think there’s a strong possibility of it escalating to affect other species in the near future.”
Published: January 23rd, 2015 at 11:43 pm ET