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    Mass mortality of tufted puffins linked to unusual warm temperatures

    TUPU_21Oct16On 17 October 2016, Paul Melovidov and Aaron Lestenkof, biologists from the Aleut Community of St. Paul Island Tribal Government Ecosystem Conservation Office (ACSPI ECO), Pribilof Islands, Alaska (see map) counted 39 fresh, mostly intact beached birds along North Beach (see photo). Since this date, daily surveys have tallied 247 beached birds on 4 separate beaches on the north and east sides of the island. Almost all of the birds found to date have been Tufted Puffins (217), with much smaller numbers of Horned Puffins and murres. Previous years’ data from both St. Paul and St. George (see graphs) indicate that Tufted Puffins have been a very small minority of the species washing ashore (see graph). In over 10 years (2006 to 2015) and 306 surveys, only 6 puffins (3 Horned, 1 Tufted, 2 unidentified to species) have ever been found. The current encounter rate (carcasses/kilometer) for Tufted Puffins is over 350-2,500 times the normal rate (range dependent on use of cumulative average versus maximum survey count). During regular COASST surveys of Pribilof Island beaches, only 22% of birds have been found completely iPatricia Johnntact, indicating most fall victim to a combination of predation and scavenging. In the ongoing mass mortality event, 84% of birds found have been intact (see photo), indicating these birds did not die from predation, and that they have beached very recently such that biologists found them before scavenging foxes attacked/removed the carcasses. Population size of puffins breeding in the Pribilof Islands is in the thousands based on USFWS surveys: 6,000 for Tufted Puffins and over 30,000 for Horned Puffins (Beringian Seabird Colony Catalog 2005). If the current Tufted Puffin carcass count was 10% of total mortality (a high estimate given the small length of beach available on the island in an otherwise open ocean), total estimated mortality would amount to one-third of the local nesting population.

    The cause of this mortality was overwhelmingly severe starvation. Birds were emaciated with complete muscle atrohpy and gastrointestinal bleeding indicative of prolonged starvation. Birds were negative for avian cholera, and ECO awaits the results from other contaminants/ disease testing.

    Species Breakdown COASSTMap of COASST beaches Puffin Dieoff

    For more information, we suggest the following resources:

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