Scientists believe that the thousands of dead birds that have washed ashore in Alaska starved to death. According to Live Science, 99 percent of the birds are common murres (Uria aalge) a seabird with an abundant and widespread distribution. One-hundred of the birds have already been examined and confirmed to have died of starvation. Scientists know that the birds have had less to eat this season, but they do not know exactly why.
Live Science reports that some of the deaths could be attributed to shellfish poisoning, but shellfish poisoning is difficult to detect when the birds starved to death and have no stomach contents. Seabirds have been known to die-off in large numbers over short periods of time during El Niño (ENSO) weather events. A similar event happened in 1993 which resulted in the death of 10,900 birds over a six month period. In this most recent event 8,000 bird carcasses have been counted.
Scientists believe that the bird deaths could be related to an oceanic event called “the blob”. “The blob” is a large, unusually warm, circular mass of sea-water. The warmer than normal temperatures of this sea-water impacts marine life negatively because it contains less nutrients which causes a scarcity of food resources low in the food chain. The impacts to the lower part of the food chain adversely affect the higher levels. It is unclear if it is related to ENSO or global warming, but scientists, according to Live Science, suspect that it might be.
There are close to 2.8 million common murres in Alaska.
CNN reports that the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge estimates that 100,000 birds have died since the beginning of the die-offs which started in August 2015. The reasons for this large estimate is that the die-offs have occurred for several months and Alaska is very large state with many remote areas which makes counting the dead birds difficult. There are close to 2.8 million common murres in Alaska.