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Massive Seabird Mortality Event in Oregon Linked to Harmful Algal Bloom - NCCOS and Partners Respond

dead bird
Thousands of scoters, common murres, loons, northern fulmars, western grebes, and other seabirds were killed or stranded along Oregon's North coast by an algal bloom. Impacted birds are being rehabilitated at rescue centers in Washington, Oregon, and California.
Photo by Z. Forster (ODFW)

In late October, NOAA, state and university researchers in Oregon joined an ongoing regional effort to respond to a major seabird mortality and stranding event in the region. Thousands of seabirds of multiple species appear to have been impacted by a widespread bloom of the algal species Akashiwo sanguinea. The species, believed to be non-toxic, produces soap-like foam that removes the waterproofing on feathers, making it harder for birds to fly and promotes the onset of hypothermia. The Monitoring Oregon Coastal Harmful Algae (MOCHA) project team, supported by NCCOS’s Monitoring and Event Response for Harmful Algal Bloom Program (MERHAB), is helping to document the distribution of seabird strandings and deaths into Oregon waters. The team is also monitoring the bloom with cell count data from offshore cruises and near shore sampling and contributing to efforts to try and predict the bloom’s trajectory. Monitoring off Oregon has shown the bloom to be less dense and widespread than in Washington waters, and in general, the bloom appears to be in decline.

24-Oct. satellite image shows location of phytoplankton off Washington-Oregon coast. High chlorophyll areas are orange, white areas are clouds. Imagery, ground-truthed by monitoring assists response efforts.  MERIS Image provided by C. Davis, N. Tufillaro, P.Strutton and A. White (OSU).

To support the response of NOAA's Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary and the Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team of the University of Washington, the MERHAB MOCHA team and NCCOS labs have joined forces with initial responding offices, including NOAA's Northwest Fisheries Science Center, Washington's Olympic Regional Harmful Algal Bloom program, and other partners with universities in Washington and California. This team continues to investigate and document the role of harmful algae, their impacts on seabirds and other animals, and to inform rehabilitation efforts.

Mortality and strandings began in September in Washington and late October in Oregon, impacting seabirds such as scoters, common murres, loons, northern fulmars, and western grebes.  The regional response team has identified the algal species, tracked its movement, and documented its impacts. Many of the thousands of recently stranded birds are being rehabilitated at rescue centers throughout the region. This seabird mortality event initiated off Washington’s coast in early September with impacts primarily confined to surf and white-winged scoters.

This event demonstrates the importance of a coordinated and expanded regional monitoring and alert system in Washington, Oregon, and California. In early 2009, eighty leading scientists, managers, and industry representatives came together at a West Coast Governor’s Agreement on Ocean Health HAB workshop to focus on the identification of core components and needs for such a system.  This regional focus has also been the target of recent efforts to reauthorize the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act.

NCCOS HAB Research Partners

NOAA Regional Offices and Partners:

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In California, NCCOS funded investigators helped find the link between the foam produced by A. sanguinea and seabird deaths during a 2007 bloom of the coast of California. Links to this work are: