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Jordan Pyle, Staff Writer

An area of hot water off the coast of Alaska nicknamed, “the blob”, has killed around a million common murres, a type of North American seabird, in less than a year. The blob began forming in 2013 in the Gulf of Alaska. By April of 2015, it was about 1,000 miles wide and 328 feet deep. The water temperature increased by 5.4 to 10.8 degrees Fahrenheit and caused a harmful bloom of algae. The algae bloom and the increased water temperature led to lower amounts of fish that are a food source for the murres as well as other animals.

Scientists believe most of the birds died from starvation because the fish they eat either migrated into deeper, colder water or died from the algae. As a result of this migration, the competition for food increased in the area between the murres, cod, salmon, and halibut.

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 Most of the birds that washed up were found in Alaska. A total of 62,000 birds washed up in the area. In the Prince William Sound, 4,600 bird carcasses were found every kilometer. Only a fraction of the birds washed up, so scientists estimated such a large number for total deaths caused by the warmer water. According to the University of Washington, there has never been such a massive decrease of seabirds recorded in history. The increase in water temperatures also caused the deaths of other marine animals including sea lions, tufted puffins, and baleen whales.

The warmer water has also affected the common murres in other ways. Scientists tracked some of the murre colonies in the area during the die off and found that some colonies didn’t produce a single chick. Three colonies did not produce a single chick during the 2015 season, and that number went up to twelve colonies that didn’t produce a single chick during the 2016 season. They were dying at a rate that they could not sustain by breeding. A study done on the colonies of common murres showed that it is uncertain how long it would take for the population to recover if it even did because, “[…]of predicted global warming trends and the associated likelihood of more frequent heatwaves.”

John Piatt, lead researcher on the “blob”, talked about the rising water temperatures and said, “The magnitude and scale of this failure has no precedent. It was astonishing and alarming, and a red-flag warning about the tremendous impact sustained ocean warming can have on the marine ecosystem.”

Another area like the one in Alaska has formed off the eastern coast of New Zealand and is detectable from space. It is larger than the state of Texas. According to a study done in 2018, there has also been an 82% rise in the number of heat wave days on the global ocean surface. Ocean heat waves are increasing in frequency and duration, and the highest level of marine heat wave activity has occurred in the North Atlantic. It is unknown if or when the damage from this heatwave will be reversed.