Hundreds of birds may have starved on Strait of Juan de Fuca

Jesse Major

Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — Scientists are getting closer to understanding why hundreds of rhinoceros auklets, a seabird closely related to puffins, have been found dead in the eastern part of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

They may have starved.

About 400 emaciated birds have washed ashore on beaches west of Port Angeles, near Victoria, and as far east as Whidbey Island since May, said conservation biologist Peter Hodum, an associate professor at the University of Puget Sound.

Necropsies of some of the birds performed by the U.S. Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Center showed the birds may have died from bacterial pneumonia.

What isn’t clear is whether they first caught pneumonia then starved, or if the birds couldn’t find food and then became more susceptible to pneumonia, Hodum said.

Hodum, one of the scientists looking into the deaths, originally believed the birds’ breeding on the Protection Island National Wildlife Refuge west of Port Townsend was going as usual.

“Everything led us to believe it was going to be a perfectly fine season,” he said.

Last week, Hodum visited the island to check on the growing chicks and found this year was anything but normal.

“Most chicks were three to four weeks behind their typical development,” he said. “That suggests a shortage in the food supply.”

He also found a high number of dead chicks, he said.

It appears to be the lowest chick survival rate Hodum has seen in the past several years.

An estimate of the chicks’ survival rate on Protection Island for this year falls between 54 percent and 77 percent. The lower estimate is “much more realistic,” Hodum said.

“Even under the optimistic fledging success scenario, 2016 ranks as the worst fledging success recorded since we began monitoring in 2006,” he said.

When Hodum was on Protection Island last week, he found that the fish the parents are bringing to their chicks are much smaller than they normally would be this time of year.

Typically at this time, parents would be bringing large sandlance and medium to large herring for their chicks to eat, he said.

“This suggests they are struggling to find their preferred food to feed their chicks at this stage of the season,” he said.

What is unknown is if the chicks’ mortality is related to the adults dying, he said.

Hodum said members of the public should use caution if they see the birds on the beach, whether they are alive or dead.

It isn’t yet known if the bacterial pneumonia can be transmitted to humans. The birds are being tested for avian influenza.

The Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team has asked the public to allow its hundreds of trained volunteers who monitor beaches along the Strait of Juan de Fuca to deal with the birds.

Discovery Bay Wild Bird Rescue in Port Townsend is asking people who find live birds to contact them at 360-379-0802 if they find live birds.

Cindy Daily, a licensed rehabilitator who runs the bird rescue, said she may be able to rehabilitate the seabirds.

Daily said earlier this week that she had rehabilitated a sickly rhinoceros auklet found in Port Angeles about two weeks ago.

“It was just very very skinny, but now it’s doing great,” she said. “It’s going to recover and be released.”

Talk to us

More in Local News

The Monroe Correctional Complex on Thursday, April 9, 2020. Inmates held a demonstration on Wednesday night after six inmates tested positive for COVID-19. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Another outbreak sends 60 to isolation at Monroe prison unit

One worker and one prisoner tested positive Monday. Then more cases were found throughout the Twin Rivers Unit.

A fatal crash prompted closure of West Mukilteo Boulevard between Forest Park and Dogwood Drive Friday afternoon. (Everett Police Department) 20211126
2 dead, 1 injured in T-bone crash in Everett

The two people who died are believed to be in their 80s. Police don’t suspect alcohol, drugs or speed played a role.

Resident escapes burning trailer near Gold Bar

Nobody was injured in the fire Saturday, but the home was destroyed.

1 dead, 3 injured in 5-car crash east of Stanwood

Katrina Kakalecik, 27, of Granite Falls, was a passenger in an SUV that was rear-ended on Thanksgiving.

A woman walks a dog in downtown Snohomish on Oct. 22. (Sue Misao / The Herald)
Snohomish adopts sales tax for mental health, affordable housing

The city’s new 0.1% tax is also under consideration elsewhere in Snohomish County.

Kyle Wheeler listens as he is convicted of second-degree manslaughter in Snpohomish County Superior Court on Thursday August 12, 2021 in Everett, Wash. ( Ellen Dennis /The Herald)
When killer skipped prison date, family’s mourning turned to fear

A judge sentenced Kyle Wheeler for killing an Everett man, Charles Hatem, then freed him on a promise to report to prison.

Michael Ciaravino
Ex-Mill Creek manager gets $92K severance after rocky tenure

Deputy City Manager Martin Yamamoto has temporarily taken over after Michael Ciaravino’s resignation.

A man died after he was found with gunshot wounds Saturday in downtown Everett. (Caleb Hutton / The Herald)
Man dead after shooting in downtown Everett

The man, believed to be in his 40s, was found near California Street and Rockefeller Avenue.

Shawneri Guzman, center, who was named Washington's Fire Educator of the Year and her team of Community Resource firefighter paramedics Janette Anderson, left, and Captain Nicole Picknell, right, at the Lynnwood Fire Station on Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021 in Lynnwood, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
A pandemic playbook, used nationally, was made in Snohomish County

South County Fire helped transport “patient zero.” Their COVID manual has helped departments far and wide.

Most Read