Scientists: West Coast bird die-off “is biggest ever recorded” — Stomachs completely empty — “Staggering… Alarming… Unheard of… Never seen anything like it” — “Unprecedented in size, scope, duration” — “Deaths could reach many hundreds of thousands” — “A host of other freakish phenomena” (VIDEO)

Published: February 4th, 2016 at 9:41 am ET
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Alaska Dispatch News, Jan 29, 2016 (emphasis added): Scientists think Gulf of Alaska seabird die-off is biggest ever recorded… The mass of dead seabirds that have washed up on Alaska beaches in past months is unprecedented in size, scope and duration, a federal biologist said… The staggering die-off… is a signal that something is awry in the Gulf of Alaska, said Heather Renner, supervisory wildlife biologist at the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge… It coincides with widespread deaths of other marine animals, from whales in the Gulf of Alaska to sea lions in California… Common murres and whales… are not the only Gulf of Alaska marine animals to fall victim to ailments… Kachemak Bay saw an eight-fold increase in sea otter deaths… Sea stars in Kachemak Bay in 2015 were found stricken with a wasting disease similar.

Heather Renner, Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge: “We are in the midst of perhaps the largest murre die-off ever recorded”… [In Homer] the beaches are “littered” with murre carcasses… A breeding colony in the Barren Islands that is usually teeming in late summer with adult murres tending their young was deserted this year… “nobody was home… In more than three decades of monitoring murres in the Barrens, we’ve never had complete reproduction failure before“… Similar failures occurred at some other nesting colonies.

USGS (pdf), Jan 2016: During March through September 2015, at least 25 seabird mortality events were reported across Alaska… The primary avian species reported included common and thick-billed murres, black-legged kittiwakes, horned and tufted puffins, glaucous-winged gulls, and sooty and short-tailed shearwaters… Some of these avian mortalities were concurrent with whale, pinniped, sea otter, and fish mortalities

Alaska Public Radio, Jan 28, 2016: [T]his event will likely be the largest and most widespread on record. And seeing the starving birds dying far inland apparently searching for food is “nearly unheard of,” said USFWS’s Heather Renner.

KHNS, Jan 15, 2016: “We’re seeing the effects of this throughout the food web,” [Rob Kaler U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service biologist] says… The murres’ stomachs are completely empty, Kaler says… Not only is the bird die-off unsettling, the implications are scary, [bird expert Pam Randles] says. “Our salmon eat that stuff and who knows what else is dying off, or starving, or having trouble?” Norm Hughes has been commercial salmon fishing in Alaska for more than 30 years. He says last season saw skinnier fish – up to 20 percent smaller… “there’s less fish”…

CNN, Jan 22, 2016: “We have never found close to 8,000 birds on a 1-mile long beach before,” [seabird biologist David Irons] said… “It is an order of magnitude larger than any records that I am aware of… Seabird biologists say seabirds are indicators of the health of the ecosystem. Now they’re dying and that is telling us something… this is bigger than I’ve ever seen.”

APRN, Jan 28, 2016: Scientists say murre die-off comparable to Exxon Valdez spill… Heather Renner with USFWS says it is already one of the largest die-offs in history and, unlike when the tanker went aground, not many people have gone out to remote beaches to survey for dead seabirds… “there’s dead murres on the ground everywhere, and it’s hard not to notice them.”

The Economist, Jan 30, 2016: [Probably hundreds] of thousands of these birds have drifted in dead… last summer they failed to raise chicks. And they have been dying in large numbers along the Pacific coast, from California to Alaska… “Whole systems are out of whack,” says Heather Renner… Old-timers in Homer have never experienced anything like this. And they are perplexed by a host of other freakish phenomena

KTOO, Jan 28, 2016: “[T]here’s dead murres on the ground everywhere, and it’s hard not to notice them.”… The reason for the dead birds is still a mystery… “I think it suggests something more related to the food web structure,” said Renner.

Homer Tribune, Jan 2016: Irons found an estimated 7,800 dead murres on a one-mile stretch of beach… he had never seen anything like that. Similar reports came in from other areas… “The really frustrating question of why they are starving to death”… said Heather Renner… [M]urres abandoned their breeding attempts mid-season at many colonies in the Gulf of Alaska, something very uncommon.

LiveScience, Feb 3, 2016: Massive Bird Die-Off Puzzles Alaska Scientists — Dead common murres have washed ashore in Alaska in alarming numbers … leaving scientists concerned and confused… [The birds] have nothing in their stomachs… [S]imilar events affected seabird populations in Washington, Oregon and California.

CBC News, Jan 28, 2016: Bruce Wright, a senior scientist Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association… estimates up to 200,000 Alaskan murres could die. With a population he puts at more than two million, Wright said the species should recover, as long as the food base comes back.

New York Times, Jan 18, 2016: Animals Die in Large Numbers, and Researchers Scratch Their Heads… The latest victims are common murres… this die-off has surprised experts, because it has been going on for around a year and it covers such a vast area… “I still don’t think we’ve seen the worst,” said [John F. Piatt, USGS seabird expert], who… speculated that if the worst happened, the deaths could reach into the many hundreds of thousands.

Watch CNN’s broadcast here

Published: February 4th, 2016 at 9:41 am ET
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