TILLAMOOK, Ore. – Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists are investigating the deaths of large numbers of seabirds along the Pacific coast in the wake of harsh winter weather the past several weeks.
Common murres and Cassin’s auklets have been showing up dead on coast beaches in greater numbers than usual. Preliminary information obtained through necropsies conducted at ODFW’s pathology lab in Corvallis indicate the birds are extremely emaciated, likely related to exhaustion and starvation caused by exposure to cold temperatures and heavy wind.
“The birds washing up on the beach seem to be starved and beaten up by the storms,” said Herman Biederbeck, ODFW biologist in Tillamook. “We have seabird die-offs in the fall and early winter every year but this year we’re seeing elevated numbers.”
The seabird die-off is not just happening on Oregon’s coast. Seabird mortality has been observed from as far south as California to as far north as British Columbia, leading some researchers to believe the die-off is the result of an unusually large hatch of young birds last spring, followed by harsh weather. (Editor’s note: Other researchers have suggested the birds’ primary food supply of tiny crustaceans has been reduced due to man-caused rising acid levels in the world’s oceans.)
Colored zip ties have been affixed to some dead birds by researchers from the University of Washington as part of a seabird mortality study, according to Biederbeck.
Though there is little risk to humans, people who encounter dead seabirds on the beach should not touch or move them. ODFW is asking beach walkers who find large concentrations of dead birds that have not been marked with colored zip ties to call their whereabouts in to their local ODFW field office or the wildlife health hotline at (866) 968-2600.