Quantcast

Climate Crisis Likely Caused Mass Die-Off of Tufted Puffins

Animals
A Tufted Puffin in the Zapadni Cliffs, St. Paul Island, Alaska. Alan D. Wilson / Wikimedia / CC BY-SA 3.0

Between October 2016 and January 2017, more than 350 Tufted puffin and Crested auklet carcasses washed up on Alaska's St. Paul island in the Bering Sea.


"It was very apparent that something strange was happening. They just keep washing in and washing in," Director of the Aleut Community of St. Paul Island Ecosystem Conservation Office Lauren Divine told The Washington Post of the die-off. "Every person in our community knew something was wrong."

Now, a study published in PLOS One Wednesday suggests the deaths were partly caused by climate change. The researchers estimated that between 3,150 to 8,800 birds died in total, and the recovered carcasses were "severely emaciated," researchers wrote, indicating they died of starvation.

CNN explained why the scientists thought climate change was ultimately to blame:

That's because the puffins that live in the area typically dine on fish, but climate change has significantly disrupted the food chain. The fish eat zooplankton, but climate change has warmed the water in the area up so much that the zooplankton and the fish have started to disappear. The seasonal ice cover in the area has also started to melt, eliminating other potential food sources for the birds. Many of the dead birds were molting, meaning they were regrowing their feathers. When a bird goes through this process, it takes a lot of energy and often cannot fly as far, or fly at all, making it even harder for them to get to food.

"They didn't get where they were going," study co-author, University of Washington Professor and leader of the citizen-science project Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team Julia Parrish told The Washington Post. "They ran out of gas. They ran out of time."

The Tufted puffins were the species most impacted by the St. Paul die-off, representing 79 percent of the carcasses found. But seabird die-offs have been a recurring event in Alaska in recent years, according to the National Park Service (NPS). There was a die-off in 2015 and 2016 in the Gulf of Alaska, and then again in fall 2017 to summer 2018 in the Bering and Chukchi seas.

"Seabirds are good indicators of ocean ecosystem health," NPS wrote. "Recent mortality events are concerning in that they may be pointing to significant changes in marine ecosystems."

Divine told The Washington Post what it was like to be at the frontline of the changes.

"We are now just bracing for what is going to wash in next," Divine said. "It's kind of terrifying."

But her community's close relationship with the St. Paul ecosystem also helped the scientists to better understand the puffin die-off.

"Island residents collected high-quality data in real time and provided COASST with a detailed context for their analysis," Divine told The Guardian. "Without the positive and mutually beneficial relationship built over years of collaboration, this massive die-off of Tufted puffins would have gone unreported in the scientific community."

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Oil palm plantations in northeastern Borneo, state of Sabah, Malaysia. Recently planted oil palms can be seen in the bright green grassy areas and a tiny bit of natural rainforest still struggles for survival farther away. Vaara / E+ / Getty Images

Palm Oil importers in Europe will not be able to meet their self-imposed goal of only selling palm oil that is certified deforestation-free, according to a new analysis produced by the Palm Oil Transparency Coalition, as Bloomberg reported.

Read More Show Less
Scientists found the most melting near Mould Bay on Prince Patrick Island, NWT, Canada. University of Alaska Fairbanks Permafrost Laboratory

The Canadian Arctic is raising alarm bells for climate scientists. The permafrost there is thawing 70 years earlier than expected, a research team discovered, according to Reuters. It is the latest indication that the global climate crisis is ramping up faster than expected.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Pixabay

By Jillian Kubala, MS, RD

Cherries are one of the most beloved fruits, and for good reason.

Read More Show Less
A fuel truck carries fuel into a fracking site past the warning signs Jan. 27, 2016 near Stillwater, Oklahoma. J Pat Carter / Getty Images

By Jessica Corbett

For more than three decades, the U.S. government has mismanaged toxic oil and gas waste containing carcinogens, heavy metals and radioactive materials, according to a new Earthworks report — and with the country on track to continue drilling and fracking for fossil fuels, the advocacy group warns of growing threats to the planet and public health.

Read More Show Less
European Union blue and gold flags flying at the European Commission building in Brussels, Belgium. 35007/ iStock / Getty Images Plus

Newly adopted guidelines set forth by the European Commission Tuesday aim to tackle climate change by way of the financial sector. The move comes to bolster the success of the Sustainable Action Plan published last year to reorient capital flows toward sustainable investment and manage financial risks from climate change, environmental degradation and social issues.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivering remarks to supporters at a Liberal Climate Action Rally in Toronto, Ontario on March 4. Arindam Shivaani / NurPhoto / Getty Images

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Tuesday that his government would once again approve the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline, which would triple the amount of oil transported from Alberta's tar sands to the coast of British Columbia (BC).

Read More Show Less
An exhausted polar bear wanders the streets of Norilsk, a Siberian city hundreds of miles from its natural habitat. IRINA YARINSKAYA / AFP / Getty Images

An exhausted, starving polar bear has been spotted wandering around the Siberian city of Norilsk, Reuters reported Tuesday. It is the first time a polar bear has entered the city in more than 40 years.

Read More Show Less
Bumblebees flying and pollinating a creeping thyme flower. emeliemaria / iStock / Getty Images

It pays to pollinate in Minnesota.

Read More Show Less