The causes of the death of Alaska seabirds are still unclear, even after the preliminary investigation. The common murres are in the unfortunate process called a die-off, despite being the most abundant type of seabird in Alaska.
The new investigation has found informational gaps in the data provided on the wildlife inhabiting the waters of the North Pacific. Scientists believe that the number of deaths might soon reach hundreds of thousands and this is truly worrisome. The emaciated bodies of the murres started to wash on the shores of Alaska last year in March. Almost one year later no one knows for sure what the cause is for this loss of wildlife.
The informational data on these birds lacks in their winter diet, their preferred habitat, their prey and the condition of the water that is farthest from the shore. Unfortunately, doing research in the field is also extremely costly. Heather Renner, biologist at the Fish and Wildlife Service from the United States, has stated that they do have more information on the food of the murres during summer.
The reason for this lack of information might be because the researchers in Alaska rarely survey the types of fish that are hunted by murres, such as sand lance and capelin. However, they do believe that the rising temperatures of the waters might have affected the zooplankton and forage fish. Murres also sometimes eat krill, a small crustacean belonging to the zooplankton category.
Renner is sure that the deaths of the birds are a clear sign that something is amiss with the food web. In order to solve this problem, researchers desperately need to study the lower trophic levels. Research wildlife biologist John Piatt from the U.S. Geological Survey has confirmed that current data is being analyzed by private and university wildlife experts, as well as several federal agencies, in order to create a report on this phenomenon.
There are about 2.8 million murres living in 230 colonies in Alaska. During the first ten days of January, 854 dead murres were found in vessel surveys, and 17,293 on the beaches. This is truly a disaster if we take into consideration the fact that only 15% of carcasses usually reach the shores. Furthermore, there are plenty of other beaches that have to be surveyed.
Since the causes of the death of Alaska seabirds are still unclear, researchers will need serious funding in order to uncover the mystery of the massive deaths in the ranks of murres. The causes might affect other species as well.
Image Source: Nature World News