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

Update: Coquihalla re-opens, after incident requiring a medevac

DriveBC warns of continued delays and congestion

COVID-19 case confirmed at restaurant in Cache Creek: Interior Health

Customers who visited the site from March 25 to 27 are asked to self-isolate

Shots fired in Abbotsford, but no victims or suspects found

Incident occurs Tuesday afternoon at Whatcom and Old Yale roads

Family medicine still available just different in the age of COVID-19

Local health officials send reminder that doctors are still providing care, by phone or video chat

Mayor reacts to suggestion to ship those in quarantine from the DTES to Chilliwack

‘People do best when they stay where they have supports already in place,’ stated Chilliwack mayor

B.C. couple celebrates 61st anniversary through seniors’ home window

Frank and Rena Phillips marked occasion at Nanaimo Seniors Village this week while social distancing

A look at some of the B.C. inventors creating life-saving tools in fight against COVID-19

Groups across B.C. are working together to create what they hope will help people affected by the pandemic

Association launches French-language games, online tools for families learning at home

Games, culture and vocabulary included in new virtual resources

‘There can be no ambiguity’: Travellers brought home to B.C. must self-isolate

Health Minister Adrian Dix said the mandatory isolation must be abided by

COVID-19: Fraser Valley crafters are busy sewing cotton masks for health-care workers and others

One Chilliwack woman has made 125 masks so far, and is still going strong

55+ BC Games cancelled amid COVID-19 concerns

Greater Victoria set to host 2021 event

BC Hydro offers three-month bill ‘holiday’ for those affected by COVID-19

Industrial customers can defer half of their power bills

VIDEO: Dog missing in Lower Mainland since winter sees his family again for the first time

Aldergrove helped find Buster, says dad, who has now witnessed ‘the power of social media’

Some April Fool’s Day jokes bring much-needed laughter; others tone deaf to COVID-19

Police are warning the public not to use the ongoing pandemic as a punchline

Most Read