SEABIRDS

Unalaska Christmas Bird Count Escapes Winter Storm

Dec 31, 2019

A huge and prolonged Northerly storm and wickedly bitter wind chills are gripping the Aleutians now, and we’ve battened down our hatches with care.  Our few seconds of longer daylight are barely meriting detection.   

Good thing we got our Christmas Bird Count pulled off a couple weeks ago, on Sunday, December 15th, 2019.

Hope McKenney/KUCB

A small group of Unalaskans learned to identify bird carcasses last week in an effort to help scientists track increasing mortalities on Alaska's beaches.

The training was held by the University of Washington's Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team (COASST), one of the organizations that monitored the state's fifth straight summer of mass die-offs.

Berett Wilber/KUCB

Thousands of dead seabirds washed up on Alaska's shores this summer, marking the state's fifth straight year of mass die-offs.

The carcasses have ranged from short-tailed shearwaters in Unalaska and Bristol Bay to auklets and murres in Nome and Kotzebue.

Zoe Grueskin / KNOM

 

Since May, hundreds of dead and dying seabirds have been found across the northern Bering and southern Chukchi Seas.

The National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have labeled the event a die-off and are coordinating monitoring efforts with local communities.

"These birds have been starving," said wildlife biolgoist Kathy Kuletz of USFWS. "They're very emaciated. Their muscles have atrophied."

COASST Island Sentinels

In the past two months, 300 dead puffins have washed up on St. Paul Island, alarming residents who had only seen six carcasses over the last decade.

The die-off appears to be slowing down now. But as KUCB's Laura Kraegel reports, scientists say it could be the sign of a much larger ecosystem problem.

Lauren Divine didn't panic when St. Paul residents found a few dead puffins on the beach in mid-October.