Alaska seabird deaths continue trend tied to warming ocean

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Federal wildlife officials are documenting a die-off of Alaska seabirds stretching from north of the Bering Strait to the Gulf of Alaska that may be connected to a trend of warming ocean water.

Carcasses examined so far have shown no indication of disease, and tests are pending for harmful algal toxins. Seabirds have been found emaciated and starved, and changed ocean conditions may have affected prey.

“As in the past, these die-offs have been associated with unusually warm water conditions,” said Katherine Kuletz, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seabird biologist. “That’s only increased in the last few years.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service in May received reports of dead and dying seabirds, or birds acting abnormally, north and south of the Bering Strait. Most were common or thick-billed murres.

Bird deaths along Saint Lawrence Island followed. Reports from more southern communities, subsistence hunters and citizen scientists in the Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team, coordinated at the University of Washington, continued over the summer. Officials recorded deaths of forktail storm petrels, fulmars, shearwaters, kittiwakes, auklets and puffins.

Bird die-offs usually are localized, Kuletz said. The 2018 numbers have not matched a die-off in late 2015 and 2016, when hundreds of thousands of common murres died.

“I think what’s different is that the numbers, even though they’re in the dozens or hundreds, they’re widely dispersed and very highly concentrated in the north Bering Sea and the southern Chukchi Sea, which is unusual,” Kuletz said. “Most of our large die-offs have occurred in the southern Bering Sea or the Gulf of Alaska.”

Common murres, known elsewhere as common guillemots, are an indicator of the health of an ecosystem. Plentiful in Alaska, murres eat finger-length forage fish such as capelin and juvenile pollock. They have a high metabolism rate and must …read more

Source:: Deseret News – U.S. & World News

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