According to scientists, about 1,000,000 sea birds died in a year during an “unprecedented” mass die-off due to a vast area of unusually warm water, known as a “blob”. More than 60,000 dead mango murres, a fish-eating species, were found to be severely debilitated on beaches from central California north to Alaska between May 2015 and April 2016.
Researchers at the University of Washington and the US Geological Survey have stated that they believe that a prolonged period of hot water temperatures off the Pacific coast unexpectedly contributed to the deaths by reducing the food supply in the area.
Scientists have said that the total number of deaths is likely to be close to 1,000,000, as only a fraction of the dead birds would have washed ashore, and only those areas would have been found that people could use.
There is a “red flag warning” for the damaging effects of mass dying ocean warming can have on marine life, according to the author of a study on deaths.
The study’s lead author and a research biologist at the US Geological Survey’s Alaska Science Center, John Piatt, said the “magnitude and scale” of the die is without precedent.
“It was surprising and worrying, and the tremendous impact a red flag warning about sustained ocean warming can have on the marine ecosystem,” Mr. Piatt said.
The warming began towards the end of 2013 and intensified during the summer of 2015 with the arrival of a powerful example of a weather phenomenon known as El Niño.
This heatwave created a 1,000-mile stretch of ocean known as the “blob”, where ocean temperatures were heated from 3 to 6 C.
Several other species, such as sea lions, tufted puffins and baleen whales, were severely affected by the increased temperature and also suffered less severe mass die-offs.
Warming caused a massive decline in the production of micro-algae, which feed a range of animals and increased harmful algae along the west coast of the Americas.
Mr Piatt said the possibility of dying was exacerbated by an increase in the metabolism of predatory fish in the hot temperature region and increased competition in the food chain.
The study’s second author and University of Washington professor Julia Parish said the findings show how a warm ocean species has “a very different environment and a very different coastal ecosystem”.
He said, “Sea birds, as highly visible members of that system, are the test of that change.”
The findings of the research team have been published in the journal PLOS One.
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