Seabirds have been washing up dead on beaches in Washington and British Columbia this summer. Something is taking a toll on a funny-sounding, peculiar-looking seabird.
Julia Parrish studies seabirds at the University of Washington. She says volunteer beach-watchers on the Olympic Peninsula and across the water in Victoria have seen dozens of auklets wash up dead.
A few of the bodies have been sent off to a federal forensics lab.
“These birds are severely emaciated. So they starved to death,” Parrish said.
But scientists don’t know yet why the birds starved. They’re working to answer that question.
Over the past two years, other species of seabirds were found dead by the hundreds of thousands on the west coast. So this summer’s dieoff is much smaller by comparison. So far.
“If we ignore it, and only pay attention when it’s really dire, then it’s often too late to do anything about it,” Parrish said.
Last year and the year before, warmer waters left seabirds with fewer of their favorite fish to eat. Parrish says it was like going to the grocery store and only finding rice cakes.
The Pacific has cooled off a bit since then, but it’s still warmer than normal, and the ocean forecast is for more of the same through next year.