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.
“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.
The chemicals that Padula looks for in sea birds are called phthalates. They are a family of chemicals used to make plastic more flexible, and they can leach into the muscle and liver tissues of birds.
Padula found those chemicals in all of the birds she collected in the west Aleutians. But only some birds had visible pieces of plastic in their stomach.
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.
Rare changes in wind patterns this fall have caused the Pacific Ocean off our coast to warm to historic levels, according to scientists. In mid-October, it was 65 degrees off the Farallon Islands and in Monterey Bay; in most years, water temperatures in those areas would be in the high 50s or low 60s.