Friday, January 22, 2016

Thousands of birds found dead along Alaskan shoreline

(CNN)As he walked on a beach in the western Prince William Sound town of Whittier, seabird biologist David Irons was startled when he saw hundreds of white lumps on the black rock beach. They were dead seabirds, in what he would discover were likely record numbers, a sign the ecosystem was being troubled by abnormally warm ocean water. The dead birds, common murres that had starved, were lined up and left where the tide had dropped them on the shore. "We have never found close to 8,000 birds on a 1-mile long beach before," Irons said of his early January discovery. "It is an order of magnitude larger than any records that I am aware of." Biologists like Tamara Zeller have been boating around Prince William Sound scanning the beaches for dead and sickly murres. They also count the birds floating in the water, she told CNN affiliate KTVA. The birds, all of a species known as the common murre, appear to have starved to death, federal wildlife officials say. Heather Renner, a supervisory biologist at the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, said the Whittier die-off is part of a much larger event that started in August. Renner estimates that 100,000 common murres have died. "It's hard to know how many birds have died because Alaska is so big, and there are so many remote areas," Renner said. The vast majority of the bird deaths are due to starvation. Tests on 100 carcasses revealed almost all the murres were emaciated, and the culprit is likely their lack of a good food supply. "The fish that they eat tend to have a narrow band of water temperatures they can live in," Irons said. "If the temperature gets too warm or too cold the fish disappear."...more

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