x

Weakened and malnourished common murres, a species of seabird, are turning up in large numbers on Northern California beaches. That’s according to the International Bird Rescue center in Fairfield, California, in the San Francisco Bay, which has rescued more than 150 of the mostly young chicks in August alone — more than 10 times the normal number.

According to International Bird Rescue, scientists are not sure what is causing the excess of starving common murres, but think it could be related to warming ocean waters. Northern California coastal waters are 5°F to 10°F warmer than historical averages, which may be causing the fish that the murres feed on to dive deeper than normal in search of cooler waters. In addition, it is an El Niño year, which results in warmer ocean waters.

Common Murre ( Uria aalge), also known as Common Guillemot. Photographed at Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, Alaska. (Photo Credit: Dick Daniels)

Common Murre ( Uria aalge), also known as Common Guillemot. Photographed at Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, Alaska. (Photo Credit: Dick Daniels)

Common murres seem to be dying off further north, as well. The Wildlife Center of the North Coast in Oregon is currently caring for about 100 birds, and is getting an influx of about 10 common murres each day.

Common murre look like small penguins, but can fly. They live along the Pacific Coast from central California to Alaska. Common murres can dive more than 200 feet below the surface of the water, using their wings to propel them, to hunt for fish.

In January, National Geographic reported on the mass die-off of cassin’s auklets. Julia Parrish, a University of Washington seabird ecologist who oversees the Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team, a program that has tracked West Coast seabird deaths for almost 20 years, called the die-off “massive” and “unprecedented,” estimating between 50,000 to 100,000 deaths.

Such mass mortality events are unfortunately becoming more common, particularly in the marine environment, due largely to biotoxins, disease and man-made disturbances, according to scientists.

Ross Curtis, a spokesperson for International Bird Rescue, said that anyone who comes across a common murre on the beach that appears to be in trouble, the best thing to do is to “use a towel or a soft jacket to scoop up the bird really gently” and bring it to a wildlife rehabilitation center.

The Fairfield center is also asking the public to help cover the costs of caring for the birds by “adopting” them.

Print Friendly

Leave a Reply

ENVIRONMENTAL NEWS
FROM THE FRONT LINES

#KnowYourPlanet

Get the top stories from Planet Experts — right to your inbox every week.

Send this to a friend