Subject: El Nino blamed for Alaska bird (fwd)

Mike Williamson (
Thu, 23 Oct 1997 15:28:44 -0400 (EDT)

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Date: Thu, 23 Oct 97 02:52:00 GMT 
Subject: El Nino blamed for Alaska bird

El Nino blamed for Alaska bird deaths

    By Yereth Rosen
     ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - Hundreds of thousands of
Alaskan seabirds are thought to have starved to death because of
El Nino, the Pacific weather phenomenon tilting nature
off-balance, U.S. scientists said Tuesday.
     The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said clues to the killer
of seabirds washed ashore from the Gulf of Alaska to the Chukchi
Sea this summer all pointed to El Nino.
     The birds appear to have died because warmer sea
temperatures forced their normal food sources -- zooplankton and
small fish -- deeper into the ocean beyond their reach, a Fish
and Wildlife Service official said.
     One fisherman told the Service that he had spotted more dead
whales than usual. Like seabirds, whales eat krill.
     Vivian Mendenhall, a Fish and Wildlife Service seabird
biologist, said: "The water was unusually warm this past
summer. For different species in different places, that created
difficulties in finding food."
 Fishermen and villagers in the Alaska Peninsula, the
Aleutian Islands and other remote parts of the Bering and
Chukchi Seas reported hundreds of dead birds washing up on small
beach sections.
     Species most affected were short-tailed shearwaters,
black-legged kittiwakes and murres.
     The deaths even spread to Russia's Chukotka Peninsula, where
biologists near Anadyr spotted dead short-tailed shearwaters
washing ashore, Mendenhall said.
     The total number of dead birds was difficult to determine,
she said. "However, I'm sure we can say it was in the hundreds
of thousands," she said.
     Results of autopsies on carcasses showed the birds had no
body fat, wasted muscles and anemia, the Fish and Wildlife
Service said.
     Scientists say El Nino has caused similar massive bird
deaths before.
     In 1983, a previous El Nino year, hundreds of thousands of
short-tailed shearwaters and black-legged kittiwakes were found
dead in western Alaska, Mendenhall said.
     But this summer's deaths may have been the most widespread
naturally caused bird die-offs ever recorded in Alaska, she
     Whether the bird deaths will affect overall seabird
populations remains unknown and will be studied over the next
few years, Mendenhall added.
     But biologists expect more seabirds, and perhaps marine
mammals, to show El Nino effects.
     El Nino, named by Latin Americans for the "Christ Child",
is a cyclical weather pattern that warms the north Pacific Ocean
every few years. This year's El Nino is reported to be the
strongest ever recorded.