Pacific Seabird Deaths From Chile To Canada: Is Larger Environmental Disaster In The Offing?
When volunteers patrolling beaches near Victoria, British Columbia in Canada found one or two dead rhinoceros auklets in years past, it was considered something worth noting, but not anything terribly unusual. Life is hard out there for an auklet, a relative of the puffin that migrates annually from Alaska to California, and is often found nesting on Vancouver Island in the winter months.
But when they starting finding dozens and finally over a hundred of the feathery corpses washed ashore, many people in the community as well as in the scientific community started raising the alarm.
“There’s definitely something going on,” said Julia Parrish in an interview with the Times-Colonist.
“That’s the ecosystem screaming ‘Pay attention!’ The big question is: To what?” added the University of Washington ecologist and executive director of COASST, the Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team.
And while the bird’s main colony there numbers somewhere near ten thousand, the questions raised by such an upsurge in mortality are myriad. Many of the dead birds showed signed of starvation, but that only raises more questions than it answers: are there food competitors moving in to their normal feeding grounds? Algal blooms that are toxic or smother and kill some critical animal or insect in the complex food chain of the region?
Indeed the signs seem to indicate that there is a larger issue at work here: just last year more than 100,000 Cassin’s auklets washed ashore in British Columbia and California, and more than 8,000 common murres were also found dead in Alaska this winter.
“Seabirds are an excellent indicator species, because they sit at the top of the food chain,” said Karen Devitt, program coordinator for Bird Studies Canada. “So when there are shifts further down, those changes can manifest further up.”
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a massive pacific die-off of animal and bird life in recent months.
A massive die-off on the coast of Chile recently affected fish, seabirds, and mammals as well, including hundreds of whales. Many are asking if the massive dosing of farmed salmon there with antibiotics to deal with an outbreak of a particularly nasty virus could have caused some sort of disruption that may have reached.
All we know is that it certainly does look like something very big is happening, sooner rather than later. Here’s hoping that Mother Nature is resilient enough to deal with whatever it is we have wrought, because it sure doesn’t look like we have a clue.