Seabird Die-Offs

A researcher examines dead murre carcass
Biologist Tony DeGange (retired USGS) examines murre carcasses on the beach of Hallo Bay in Katmai National Park and Preserve.

NPS/Stacia Backensto

The Common Murre Wreck of 2015-2016
is an appropriate name for a massive bird die-off. Alaska, and along the U.S. Pacific Coast, saw an unprecedented die-off event of Common Murres between 2015 and into the spring of 2016. Warmer ocean temperatures disrupted prey species distribution and hundreds of thousands of seabirds, mostly Common Murres, died of starvation.
A map showing the density and extent of murre deaths.
This map shows the density and extent of the dead murres found in the 2015-2016 die-off.

Map created by the U.S. Geological Survey, Alaska Science Center.

In response to this year-long, wide-spread Common Murre die-off along the Pacific Coast and the northern Gulf of Alaska, we worked along with agency partners (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Geological Survey) to conduct a winter marine bird and mammal survey in Katmai National Park and Preserve in March 2016. We also surveyed 19 segments of beaches by foot (a combined total of ~12 linear miles) and two offshore islands, and found evidence of the die-off everywhere we looked. We counted over 2,000 seabird carcasses (1,988 murres, 16 Crested Auklets, 2 Least Auklets, 1 Marbled Murrelet, 1 Glaucous-winged Gull, 2 Black-legged Kittiwakes, 2 Cormorants, and 23 unidentified small alcids). Nearly all carcasses were estimated to be on the beach for over 1.5 months, heavily scavenged, and found further inland on the beaches.

Check out this video that shows the results from the expedition to Katmai National Park and Preserve.
two birds from the Bering Sea bird die off 2017
A Horned Puffin and Short-tailed Shearwater documented as part of the seabird die-off, 2017.

NPS/Stacia Backensto

Bering Sea Die-Off
Late summer and early fall of 2017 another seabird die-off happened in the Bering and Chukchi seas of Alaska and Russia. Our scientists worked with other agencies to examine the scale and scope of the event. They counted hundreds of carcasses, documented the species, and sent samples to a lab for analysis. Preliminary data indicate the greatest number of birds impacted were Short-tailed Shearwaters and Northern Fulmars, but other species found include Black-legged Kittiwakes, murres, auklets, gulls, and Horned Puffins. Examined birds ultimately died of starvation or drowning, but underlying factors contributing to the die-off have yet to be determined. Early results from a walrus-stranding event in the Bering Strait that coincided with the seabird die-off indicate that walruses had been exposed to algal toxins, although it's unknown if this contributed to their deaths.
A map showing the density and distribution of the seabird die off in the Chukchi and Bering seas.
Tim Jones/Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team (COASST;
So far, this is the distribution and density of the seabird die-off in the Chukchi and Bering seas. The coast of Northwestern Alaska including Bering Land Bridge National Preserve and Cape Krusenstern National Monument, off the coast of Chukotka, Russia, and far out in the Aleutian chain.
a chart showing the status of Alaska seabirds in 2017
The 2017 Alaska Seabird Report Card.

Provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge

The National Park Service works with many partners to document and understand seabird die-offs. Among our partners are: the Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Migratory Bird Management Program and the Alaska Maritime Refuge; the U.S. Geological Survey Alaska Science Center, Alaska Fisheries Science Center, and National Wildlife Health Center; the coastal communities of Nome, Unalakleet, Stebbins, Golovin, Kotzebue, and Shshmaref; Native villages of Gambell and Savoonga; Kawerak and Maniilaq Native Corporations; and Alaska Sea Grant provided transboundary reports from Chukotka, Russia.

Last updated: February 8, 2018