Anchorage 1/24/17, Hotel Captain Cook
Today is Gulf of Alaska day. Tomorrow will be Bering Sea and Thursday the Arctic.
First up was the mass deaths of seabirds in 2015. Thanks to John Piatt, there was an energetic push to get out to remote shorelines along the coasts of the Alaska Peninsula, Kenai Peninsula, Kodiak Island and the Shumagins. And they found them. There is unlikely to ever be a meaningful estimate of the extent of the mortalities, but today they can say it was in the hundreds of thousands. They can also say the birds starved, judging by body weight, so once again the warm water blob can be implicated for dropping productivity. Fisheries found close to zero forage fish in the same areas where the Murres feed in the winter, looking at capelin, young-of-the-year pollock and hooligan. Shannon Atkinson of UAF called it a “perfect storm” where all the conditions contributed to the mortality. And then a second similar mortality of tufted puffins, once again starved, was documented in the Pribilof Islands area.
The marine eco collapse of 2015, as I have started calling it, also shows up in NOAA oceanographic transects being taken monthly across Kachemac Bay from the end of the Homer Spit for the past 5 years. They saw a change from cold to warm in 2014, and it has been getting warmer, and warmer deeper, ever since. In the upper part of the water, NOAA’s Kristine Holdried said, they are “seeing wintertime temperatures we used to see in the summer.” She noted as well that 2015 was the year when there were not only bird die offs, but sea star wasting, whale beachings, and then this year Kachemac Bay’s first PSP incident in ten years.
Update: Eco collapse is probably overstating it, though it certainly was a strain in the food web. Added to these incidents are more, including a complete reproductive failure last year for the black-legged kittiwakes in Prince William Sound.