Dead birds washing ashore by the thousands on Pacific coast baffle scientists

Thousand of Birds Are Mysteriously Dying
Thousand of Birds Are Mysteriously Dying

Weather Channel -- Thousands of dead birds have been washing up on the Pacific Coast, and nobody is sure why.

From the northern coast of Washington to Northern California, beachgoers and biologists have been finding the carcasses of a small species of bird known as Cassin's auklets.

During winter, it isn't abnormal for seabirds to die in storms and harsh weather, but the scale of this event is what sparked researchers to dig deeper.

The Los Angeles Times reports that since the strange phenomenon began in the fall, the University of Washington's Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team has seen more than 1,200 of the seabirds' bodies.

(MORE: Climate Change Could Hurt Half of North America's Birds)

"To be this lengthy and geographically widespread, I think is kind of unprecedented," Phillip Johnson, executive director of the Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition told the Salem Statesman Journal. "It's an interesting and somewhat mysterious event."

The Associated Press reports that Robert Ollikainen of Tillamook, Oregon, found 132 dead birds on Dec. 26, and that 126 of them were Cassin's auklets.

"It was pretty dramatic," Ollikainen said.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife says that the birds are starving to death, but there are multiple theories as to why they can't find food.

One explanation is that the chunky birds are victims of their own successful breeding season.

With more birds on the lookout for a meal, less get fed, and as a consequence the younger birds tend to die.

Another explanation is climate change.

As explained in the Salem Statesman Journal, warmer, more acidic waters could affect krill populations, which are a vital food source for the Cassin's auklet. Atypical, violent storms could also push the birds into unfamiliar foraging territory.

There isn't one definitive answer, and research teams are continuing to investigate.

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