In a study published Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE, a group of scientists from various state and federal agencies, universities and bird rescue organizations documented the die-off and concluded from the data that it was caused by a record-breaking ocean heat wave in 2014 through 2016 that triggered systemic changes throughout the ocean ecosystem.
n February, southwest winds brought warm air and turned thin sea ice into “snow cone ice” that melted or blew off. When a storm pounded Norton Sound, water on Feb. 12 surged up the Yukon River and into Kotlik, flooding low-lying homes. Lifelong resident Philomena Keyes, 37, awoke to knee-deep water outside her house.
“This is the first I experienced in my life, a flood that happened in the winter, in February,” Keyes said in a phone interview.
“…a growing body of evidence suggests that our casual attitude about waste
may be reshaping the way the natural world functions across much of the planet, inadvertently subsidizing some opportunistic predators and thus contributing to the decline of other species, including some that are threatened or endangered.”
“We are seeing starvation, these birds are emaciated,” says Senior Environmental Scientist John Thompson, Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Thompson claims it is the changing weather pattern with El Niño conditions and the boost in ocean temperatures.
One phrase people are using these days is “global weirding.” And I think that that is something that we’re seeing, the “blob” of warm water offshore is something that’s really never been seen before on this scale in the North Pacific, and I think we really don’t understand the implications of that yet, or what’s causing it exactly.
Some of the largest population declines, according to the report, include terns at 85.8 percent. Frigatebirds decline by up to 81.7 percent. Petrels declines followed at 79.6 percent, while cormorants and shags populations dropped by up to 73.6 percent.
U.S. Geological Survey experts found the seabird population density declined 2 percent annually from 1975 to 2012 in the northeast North Pacific, said John Piatt, research wildlife biologist at the USGS Alaska Science Center.