Marine Heatwave “The Blob” Killed a Million Seabirds, Claims New Study

The common murre breeds in both the Pacific and the Atlantic and is among the most abundant seabirds in the northern region. However, their number has declined rapidly, like many other seabirds. The main reason behind the consequence is the marine environment, which is a seabird’s home and hunting ground.

Between the summer of 2015 and the spring of 2016, the heatwave in the northern Pacific Ocean recorded extremely high and lasted longer than any since records began in 1870. In early 2016, more than 6,000 penguin-like birds were found dead on the rocky beaches near Whittier, Alaska. About tens of thousands of them washed up on Pacific beaches from Alaska down to California, between the summer of 2015 and the spring of 2016.

However, the exact cause behind the deaths was not clear. Recently, a new report published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE, said that more than 20 researchers claim the murres died because of warm ocean water.

They blamed “the blob,” the heatwave responsible for rising sea surface temperatures along the Pacific coast of North America. The weather phenomenon called El Nino accelerated the warming temperatures beginning in 2015 and by 2016. Because of the high heat the fishes such as herring, sardine, juvenile salmon and anchovy, died or moved into colder water elsewhere.

The new study claims that the Murres most likely starved to death. Murres usually eat fishes as their main diet and must eat half its body weight to survive. Without food, they can survive hardly 3 to 5 days. The food crisis was one of the main reasons behind their death.

“It’s very convincing, and I would actually say it’s fairly conclusive. There’s very little else that could have caused the extensive effects they document,” says Andrew Leising at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Most of the birds washed up in Alaska. Researchers also discovered some other impacts on sea life. During the same period, several different creatures, including Pacific cod, sea lions, humpback whales, and Guadalupe fur seals, die. It took the researchers years to understand what went wrong after gathering and analyzing data.

The UN Climate Science Panel warned last year that marine heatwaves will become more frequent because of climate change and will continue to rise with climate change. The study published this week also marked 2019 as the hottest year in recorded history for four oceans, and it has been recorded highest in the Atlantic and Southern Oceans.