A Hot Blob in the Pacific Ocean Caused 1 Million Seabirds to Die

livescience.com | 1/17/2020 | Yasemin Saplakoglu
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Five years ago, tens of thousands of emaciated seabirds washed ashore on the Pacific Coast. Now, scientists know why: a long-lived marine heat wave known as "the blob."

The common murre (Uria aalge) is a black and white seabird that reaches about 1 foot (0.3 meters) long and can dive hundreds of meters deep into water in search of prey. These seabirds feast on tiny "forage fish" such as sardines, herring and anchovies, and need to consume about half of their body weight every day in order to survive.

Couple - Years - Feast - Surface - Waters

But a couple of years ago, their feast disappeared. In 2013, surface waters began to heat up off the Pacific coast, a phenomenon that became known as "the blob." These warmer waters — the most powerful ocean heatwave that was ever recorded — continued until 2015. The waters warmed even further when a powerful El Niño — another ocean-atmosphere phenomenon that causes a period of warming sea surface temperatures — arrived in 2015 and 2016.

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The warm waters spelled trouble for creatures both on land and in the water. A number of species experienced similar mass die-offs, including tufted puffins, sea lions, baleen whales and Cassin's auklets, according to a statement.

But no species died off quite at the level of these common murres. Between 2015 and 2016, 62,000 dead or dying common murres washed up on Pacific shores from California to Alaska. "So far, no evidence for anything other than starvation was found to explain this mass mortality," the researchers wrote in the study. What's more, previous studies revealed that...
(Excerpt) Read more at: livescience.com
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