Science

Warm Water Patch Killed a Million of Seabirds in a Year, Scientists Say

A few years ago, in December 2013. Researchers had discovered a massive patch of warm water in the Pacific Ocean. At the time, they had named it the Blob and surmised climate change liable for the same. Now, new research has claimed the blob for the death of murre, a species of seabirds. The study, published on Wednesday, includes the participation of scientists from the US Geological Survey, the University of Washington, and others. During the trial, the team has analyzed around 62,000 murre bodies that had washed aground. As per researchers, the bodies washed on to land between summer 2015 to spring 2016, from central California via Alaska. The study, released in the journal PLOS One, also notes that the marine heatwave started in 2013. After that, it became more powerful between 2015-16 because of EI Niño, a weather phenomenon.

As a result, the heatwave developed a patch of much warmer covering in the northeastern Pacific that spread for over 1,000 miles. Some regions even extended temperatures more than 10 degrees Fahrenheit, which is higher than standard oceanic temperatures. Murre usually depends on small fish for feeding. The scientists surmise the seabirds would have probably died due to starvation as the blob raised rivalry for the little fish they eat. On the other hand, larger fish like cod, Salmon, also rely on the same prey alike murres. But increased water temperatures increased the metabolic rate of large fishes, making them hungrier. As a result, they started eating more, which eventually reduced the supply of food for the murres. Meanwhile, those seabirds need to eat an equal of half their body weight every day.

In some regions, the number of dead murres remained over 1,000 times than usual. Overall, the scientists estimate that a million murres would have died during the time frame. Besides this, it is the largest mass death event ever in history. Above all, the blob has had affected the ecosystem of the Pacific Ocean. John Piatt, leading author of the study, said, the extent and measure of this disaster have no prototype. The team says it is shocking, alarming as well as a red-flag warning regarding the incredible impact persistent ocean warming can pose on marine life.

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Jason Amato

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