Deceased seabirds on the beach
Aleut Community of St. Paul Island Ecosystem Conservation Office
Tufted puffins are seen in October 2016 during a massive seabird die-off. Immature birds are in the top row, and adults are seen in the middle and bottom rows

Seabirds, from cormorants to puffins, spend most of their lives at sea. Beloved by birdwatchers, these animals can be hard to study because they spend so much time far from shore.

New research led by the University of Washington uses data collected by coastal residents along beaches from central California to Alaska to understand how seabirds have fared in recent decades. The paper, published July 6 in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series, shows that persistent marine heat waves lead to massive seabird die-offs months later.

“This is truly a global data set that asked a global-sized question: Does a warming world significantly impact marine birds, among the top predators in the nearshore marine environment?” said co-author Julia Parrish, a professor of aquatic and fishery sciences at the UW and executive director of the Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team, known as COASST.

“We find a dramatic delayed effect,” she said. “A warmer ocean, and certainly a suddenly warmer ocean as happens during an El Niño or a marine heat wave, will result in the death of hundreds of thousands to millions of marine birds within one to 6 months of the temperature increase.”

Read more at UW Today »