Why Have Thousands of Puffins and Other Seabirds Died En Masse in the Bering Sea?
by Brigit Katz Smithsonian.com
Seabirds are an important indicator of marine ecosystem health—and in 2016, signs began to emerge that something was very, very wrong in the eastern Bering Sea. Around 350 dead seabirds, most of them tufted puffins, washed onto Alaska’s St. Paul Island, shocking residents and experts.
“[Y]ou couldn’t walk more than a few steps before having to pick up another bird,” Lauren Divine, director of the Aleut Community of St. Paul Island Ecosystem Conservation Office, tells the Atlantic’s Ed Yong.
And the number of dead birds on St. Paul may represent just a fraction of the total birds that lost their lives between 2016 and 2017. In a new study published in PLOS One, a team of researchers used the locations of the bodies and weather data to estimate that between 3,150 and 8,800 seabirds in the eastern Bering Sea perished—a mass die-off that, according to the study authors, is at least partly attributable to climate change.