It's now thought to be more than 300.000 dead common murres the largest murre die-off ever recorded and it's just the tip of a very large iceberg
The mass of dead seabirds that have washed up on Alaska beaches in past months is unprecedented in size, scope and duration, a federal biologist said at an Anchorage science conference.
The staggering die-off of common murres, the iconic Pacific seabirds sometimes likened to flying penguins, is a signal that something is awry in the Gulf of Alaska, said Heather Renner, supervisory wildlife biologist at the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.
"We are in the midst of perhaps the largest murre die-off ever recorded," Renner told the Alaska Marine Science Symposium on Thursday.
While there have been big die-offs of murres and other seabirds in the past, recorded since the 1800s, this one dwarfs all of them, Renner said.
"This event is almost certainly larger than the murres killed in the Exxon Valdez oil spill," she said. After that spill -- at the time, the nation's largest -- about 22,000 dead murres were recovered by crews conducting extensive beach searches in the four months after the tanker grounding, according to the Exxon Valdez Trustee Council, the federal-state panel that administers funds paid to settle spill-related claims for natural-resource damages.
Now, hundreds and thousands of dead murres are turning up on a wide variety of Alaska beaches, including nearly 8,000 discovered this month on a mile-long stretch in Whittier, she said.
A preliminary survey in Prince William Sound has already turned up more than 22,000 dead murres there, she said.
Starving, dying and dead murres are showing up far from their marine habitat, in inland places as distant as Fairbanks, hundreds of miles from the Gulf of Alaska coast, making the die-off exceptionally large in geographic scale.
Even if she weren't an expert, the bird die-off would be obvious to Renner.
She lives in Homer, where the beaches are "littered" with murre carcasses, she said.
"You can't walk more than a few feet without finding murres," she said.
Since only a small proportion of those killed ever show up as carcasses on the shore -- past studies put that proportion at 15 percent -- the actual death toll is likely much higher, (300.000) emphasis by The Big Wobble.
The murre die-off began last spring, making it an especially long-lasting event. And would probably rule out El-Nino as the cause.
It coincides with widespread deaths of other marine animals, from whales in the Gulf of Alaska to sea lions in California.
Once again an "expert" gives only a small percentage of what is really happening.....
The above is of course only a small part of a west coast echo system which appears to be on melt down with Whales, fur seals, sea otters, walrus, dolphins, birds, fish, mussels and starfish, all dying in catastrophic numbers along the coast from Mexico to Alaska for almost four years now and it's getting worse.
The die-off is overwhelmingly affecting common murres rather than thick-billed murres, which are closely related but tend to use slightly more western and northwestern waters from the Aleutians to the Chukchi Sea.
The immediate cause of the bird deaths is starvation.