On the coastline from northern California to northern Washington, Cassin's auklet carcasses by the thousands have been washing up in recent months, presenting a mystery for scientists as to what's killing them.
According a piece in the L.A. Times, a seabird team from the University of Washington has documented more than 1,200 bodies washing ashore since the fall.
But the team thinks that number represents just a small sampling of what is likely to be tens of thousands of birds.
The Cassin's auklet is a small seabird that ranges along the California coastline all the way up into the Aleutian Islands off Alaska.
Why they're dying is the great unknown. According to the Times, the birds have been found dead of starvation, ruling out oil spills or adverse food reactions. Possible reasons thus far for their starvation include food sources (usually small fish and shrimp) that have been stretched thin, thanks to a successful breeding season last year in British Columbia, and slightly warmer Pacific Ocean temperatures impacting the food chain.
The University of Washington seabird team's Executive Director, Julia Parrish, pointed out that other coastal birds are not also dying at unexpected rates, suggesting the ecosystem had not cratered. "There is a little bit of a mystery to it," she told the Times.
via the L.A. Times