Quantcast
Popular
Paul Melovidov

'We've Never Seen Anything Like This': Hundreds of Dead Puffins Wash Ashore in the North Pacific

Hundreds of dead tufted puffins began washing up in the Bering Sea in October, as unusually warm water may have upended the bird's food chain.

Far out on the remote Pribilof Islands, a few dead puffins were found in early October, but within days volunteers were finding from 20 to 40 birds a day. By now, several hundred birds have washed ashore.


The birds are emaciated, but show no evidence of disease.

"It's basically every year now we're getting some huge mass-mortality event," the University of Washington's Julia Parrish told National Geographic.

Tufted Puffin at St. Paul Island, Pribilof Islands, Alaska.Flickr/Martha de Jong-Lantink

The charismatic puffins, with their bright-orange bills and feet set off by a white face and dark body, range throughout the North Pacific Ocean. While populations have declined dramatically or even disappeared from former nesting sites in California, the bird is abundant in the North Pacific. However, bycatch in fishing nets kills thousands of tufted puffins each year. Nate Mantua, an ecologist at NOAA's Southwest Fisheries Science Center in Santa Cruz, California, isn't looking at bycatch as the possible culprit in this case.

"The Bering Sea has been off-the-charts warm," he said. It may be due to the Pacific Ocean "Blob," which has been disrupting seas and weather since 2014. According to Mantua, warm water and air blew into the Bering Sea this October from the south, where the Blob has set up. It's had an effect on sea life up and down the food chain.

The Blob led to an unprecedented algae bloom along the West Coast in 2015 and coincided with a large whale mortality event in the Western Gulf of Alaska beginning in May 2015. Last year saw 45 strandings of fin whales, humpbacks and at least one gray whale.

"Seabirds are another one: There were some species with some very large mortalities, with lots more dead seabirds washing up on the beaches," according to Washington's state climatologist Nicholas Bond.

Tufted puffins feed mainly on small fish and squid, along with mollusks, sea urchins and crustaceans. And threats to marine species go well beyond starving puffins.

The Bering Sea is among the largest and most valuable commercial fisheries in the world. Salmon, crab, cod and Alaska pollock are all landed in large numbers. The salmon season this year was disastrous, causing a collapse in the value of salmon permits in Alaska.

This year, summer surveys revealed that crab numbers had crashed. Crab quotas have been cut from 70 million pounds last year to just 30 million pounds for the season which opened Oct. 15.

"We've never seen anything like this," said Mantua. "We're in uncharted territory. We're in the midst of an extraordinary time."

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Climate
In 2018, the Arctic region had the second-lowest overall sea-ice coverage on record. NOAAPMEL / YouTube

The Past 5 Years Were the Arctic's Warmest on Record

The Arctic is still warming at twice the rate of anywhere else on Earth, and the region's air temperatures in the past five years between 2014-2018 have exceeded all previous records since 1900, according to a peer-reviewed report released by the U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on Tuesday.

The agency's 13th annual Arctic Report Card also concluded that 2018 was second only to 2016 in terms of the region's overall warmth.

Keep reading... Show less
Science
Partial solar eclipse. ndersbknudsen, CC BY 2.0

3 Key Dangers of Solar Geoengineering and Why Some Critics Urge a Global Ban

By Justin Mikulka

A Harvard research team recently announced plans to perform early tests to shoot sunlight-reflecting particles into the high atmosphere to slow or reverse global warming.

These research efforts, which could take shape as soon as the first half of 2019, fall under the banner of a geoengineering technology known as solar radiation management, which is sometimes called "sun dimming."

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
Even an increase of 2°C would cause significant sea level rise. pxhere

Report: Current Climate Policies Will Warm the World by 3.3˚C

This past October, a widely disseminated United Nations report warned that far-reaching and significant climate impacts will already occur at 1.5˚C of warming by 2100.

But in a study released Tuesday, researchers determined that the current climate polices of governments around the world will push Earth towards 3.3˚C of warming. That's more than two times the aspirational 1.5˚C target adopted by nearly 200 nations under the 2015 Paris agreement.

Keep reading... Show less
Food
garett_mosher / iStock / Getty Images

McDonald's to Reduce Antibiotics Use in Beef

In a significant win in the fight to save antibiotics, McDonald's—the largest and most iconic burger chain on the planet—announced Tuesday that it will address the use of antibiotics in its international supply chain for beef by 2021.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Insights/Opinion
Protesters clashes with riot police on Foch avenue next to the Place de l'Etoile, setting cars ablaze during a Yellow Vest protest on Dec. 1 in Paris. Etienne De Malglaive / Getty Images

The Lesson From a Burning Paris: We Can’t Tax Our Way Out of the Climate Crisis

By Wenonah Hauter

The images from the streets of Paris over the past weeks are stark and poignant: thousands of angry protesters, largely representing the struggling French working class, resorting to mass civil unrest to express fear and frustration over a proposed new gas tax. For the moment, the protests have been successful. French President Emmanuel Macron backed off the new tax proposal, at least for six months. The popular uprising won, seemingly at the expense of the global fight against climate change and the future wellbeing of our planet.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Rainbow Mountains in Vinicuna, Perú. Megan Lough / UI International Programs / CC BY-ND 2.0

7 Reasons Why #Mountains Matter

December 11 is International Mountain Day, an annual occasion designated by the United Nations to celebrate Earth's precious mountains.

Mountains aren't just a sight to behold—they cover 22 percent of the planet's land surface and provide habitat for plants, animals and about 1 billion human beings. The vital landforms also supply critical resources such as fresh water, food and even renewable energy.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
Tetra Images / DigitalVision / Getty Images

Don’t Stress About What Kind of Christmas Tree to Buy, but Reuse Artificial Trees and Compost Natural Ones

By Bert Cregg

Environmentally conscious consumers often ask me whether a real Christmas tree or an artificial one is the more sustainable choice. As a horticulture and forestry researcher, I know this question is also a concern for the Christmas tree industry, which is wary of losing market share to artificial trees.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
The Woolsey Fire seen from Topanga, California on Nov. 9. Peter Buschmann / Forest Service, USDA

Hotter Planet Makes Extreme Weather Deadlier, New Study Finds

By Jake Johnson

With people across the globe mobilizing, putting their bodies on the line, and getting arrested en masse as part of a broad effort to force the political establishment to immediately pursue ambitious solutions to the climate crisis, new research published on Monday provided a grim look at what the future will bring if transformative change is not achieved: colossal flooding, bigger fires, stronger hurricanes and much more.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!