University of Washington

Warm ocean water triggered vast seabird die-off, experts say

A year after tens of thousands of common murres, an abundant North Pacific seabird, starved and washed ashore on beaches from California to Alaska, researchers have pinned the cause to unusually warm ocean temperatures that affected the tiny fish they eat.

Elevated temperatures in seawater affected wildlife in a pair of major marine ecosystems along the West Coast and Canada, said John Piatt, a research wildlife biologist for the U.S. Geological Survey. Common murres are an indicator of the regions' health.

"If tens of thousands of them are dying, it's because there's no fish out there, anywhere, over a very large area," Piatt said.

To see such effect over...

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