Warm ocean ‘blob’ could be behind mass starvation of North Pacific seabirds: study

Unprecedented death toll raises red flag for North American marine ecosystems

A new report suggests a warm “blob” of water could be behind the mass starvation of a North Pacific seabird.

According to a report published in the science journal PLOS ONE, about 62,000 dead or dying common murres washed ashore between California and Alaska between summer 2015 and spring 2016. Carcass recovery brings the death estimate up to around one million in total.

On Jan. 1 and 2, 2016, 6,540 common murre carcasses were found washed ashore near Whitter, Alaska, translating into about 8,000 bodies per mile of shoreline – one of the highest beaching rates recorded during the mass mortality event. (Photo by David B. Irons)

The report says there’s nothing to suggest the emaciated birds died from anything other than starvation.

Additionally, no murre chicks were born at breeding colonies between 2015 and 2017.

READ ALSO: Climate change threatens extinction for most birds, especially in Canada: report

Researchers linked the deaths to a “large mass of unusually warm seawater” known as the “Blob” and the strong El Niño that followed, creating a “severe marine heatwave” stretching from California to Alaska between 2014 and 2016.

In a statement, authors said the mass deaths “raise a red-flag warning about the state of marine ecosystems on the continental shelf of western North America.”

The study links to previous research suggesting that warmer marine temperatures reduce both the quantity and quality of phytoplankton – reducing the health and numbers of fish who eat them and increasing the metabolic needs of larger fish that compete with murres for food.

Researchers hypothesize that the warm water ultimately led to the birds’ mass starvation and lack of reproduction.

The murre die-off revealed a major disruption in marine food webs, with alarming declines not only in murres, but in other seabirds, commercial fish and great whales between 2016 and 2019.

Researchers say they are only beginning to understand “the mechanisms and full magnitude of effects of the 2014-16 heatwave, and what it portends if such heatwaves become stronger and more frequent, as predicted.”

READ ALSO: Three billion fewer birds in North America than in 1970, study finds



nina.grossman@blackpress.ca

Follow us on Instagram
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Just Posted

‘An extra $220 every 90 days’: B.C. patients pay more dispensing fees due to prescription limits

Kelowna woman says it’s outrageous to charge for refills every 30 days

COVID-19: Interior Health orders closure of all fitness centres until May 30

The order is subject to revision, cancellation, or extension

FortisBC pausing power disconnections and late-fees amid COVID-19 crisis

Company says they plan to work with customers affected by COVID-19 on a “one on one” basis

Don’t avoid doctor’s office if you need help, say Kootenay Boundary physicians

There are alternatives to coming in physically to offices, docs say

MP Morrison ‘disappointed’ in six-week delay for wage subsidy support

Kootenay-Columbia MP says small businesses and employees need financial help now

‘Hold our line’: 29 new cases of COVID-19 announced in B.C.

Saturday’s number of new cases marks the lowest in weeks.

Two inmates found positive for COVID-19 at federal prison in B.C.; other tests pending

15 staff self-isolating waiting results, refusal to work notice sent, says correctional officer

Critic, workers’ group ‘disappointed’ Trudeau chose Amazon to distribute PPE

Amazon Canada said in an email to The Canadian Press that it is working with Canada Post, Purolator

Full World COVID-19 update: National Guard collect ventilators in New York; Spain, Italy improve

Comprehensive coronavirus update with news from around the world.

Two people fined after B.C. police spot online ads re-selling 5,000 surgical, N95 masks

Police confiscated the masks, being sold at inflated prices, and now working with Fraser Health

General exposure to public low after inmate tests positive for COVID-19: Interior Health

The Okanagan Correctional Centre inmate is receiving appropriate care

Sex workers face new risks during COVID-19 pandemic

‘Desperation has kicked in’ for vulnerable, undocumented workers unable to access help

Unclear if Cowichan couple refusing to self-isolate will face penalty

No fines or charges have been laid to date, including Cowichan couple who won’t self isolate

Most Read