Seabirds dy­ing by thou­sands

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - GREEN LIVING - THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Seabird bi­ol­o­gist David Irons drove re­cently to the Prince Wil­liam Sound com­mu­nity of Whit­tier to check on a friend’s boat and spot­ted white blobs along the tide line of the rocky Alaska beach. He thought they were patches of snow. A closer look re­vealed that the white patches were ema­ci­ated com­mon mur­res, one of North Amer­ica’s most abun­dant seabirds, washed ashore af­ter ap­par­ently starv­ing to death. “It was pretty hor­ri­fy­ing,” Irons said. “The live ones stand­ing along the dead ones were even worse.” Murre die-offs have oc­curred in pre­vi­ous win­ters but not in the num­bers Alaska is see­ing. Fed­eral re­searchers won’t es­ti­mate the num­ber, and are try­ing to gauge the scope and cause of the die-off while ac­knowl­edg­ing there’s lit­tle they can do. Sci­en­tists say the die-offs could be a sign of ecosys­tem changes that have re­duced the num­bers of the for­age fish that mur­res de­pend upon. Warmer wa­ter sur­face tem­per­a­tures, pos­si­bly due to global warm­ing or the El Nino weather pat­tern, may have af­fected murre prey, in­clud­ing her­ring, capelin and ju­ve­nile pol­lock. There are about 2.8 mil­lion breed­ing com­mon mur­res in 230 Alaska colonies, part of a world­wide pop­u­la­tion of 13 to 20.7 mil­lion birds. An es­ti­mated 8,000 of the black and white birds were found dead on the Whit­tier beach, said John Pi­att, re­search wildlife bi­ol­o­gist at the U.S. Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey’s Alaska Sci­ence Cen­ter.

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