British Columbia

Bird Studies Canada concerned about dead seabirds in Pacific Northwest

Bird Studies Canada, which monitors sea bird mortality, says there have been about half a dozen reports of dead Rhinoceros Auklets around the Victoria area and Washington State.

Bird researcher says it's too soon to tell if carcasses part of a mass die-off

A pair of Rhinoceros Auklet are among the carcasses recently found near Victoria. Bird Studies Canada is monitoring what it says is a concerning number of deaths of these seabirds. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

Researchers say a concerning number of dead sea birds have washed up in the Pacific Northwest.

Bird Studies Canada, which monitors sea bird fatalities, says so far there have been 14 reports of dead rhinoceros auklets around the Victoria area and Washington State.

"It's definitely more than we normally see, but it's still too early to tell if it is going to be a large die-off event," said program coordinator Karen Devitt.

Deaths linked to ocean health 

Sea birds are important indicators of ocean health, she said, adding that recent die-offs are believed to be caused by a shortage of prey.

Devitt said carcasses of the dead birds will be sent to the Canadian Wildlife Service to determine the cause of death.

Unusual numbers of rhinocerous auklets are washing up on beaches near Victoria and Washington State. (P. Lancaster)

Victoria resident Linda Carlson said she found numerous carcasses littering the sand at the beach she walks along every day with her dog. 

"This is unusual to me to see this number of dead birds — they were all the same kind of bird," she said.

"There are children who swim in the water here and people take their dogs and if something toxic was in the water I would think we'd want to know how it got there so we could prevent it from recurring."

Linda Carlson encountered a number of seabird carcasses while walking her dog, Fig, on the Dallas Road beach. (Linda Carlson)

Devitt said anyone who wants to report a beached bird or join the monitoring program should contact the B.C. Beached Seabird Survey  by email or phone 1-877-349-2473.

She urged the public not to move or touch the dead birds, adding that citizen scientists will be tasked to pick them up wherever they are found. 

Previous seabird die-offs on the West Coast include:

  • 2015-2016: A massive die-off estimated at potentially hundreds of thousands of common murres washed up over several months in Alaska. Starvation was the probable cause.
  • Winter of 2014-2015: More than 100,000 Cassin's auklets were found dead along the coast from Northern British Columbia to California. Starvation was found to be the cause. Researchers are exploring a possible link to the North Pacific warm water "blob." 

With files from Megan Thomas

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said large seabird die-offs had been linked to ingestion of plastics. In fact, while plastic has killed seabirds, it has not been scientifically linked to large die-offs of the birds.
    Jul 15, 2016 5:49 PM PT