MEPS 579:111-127 (2017)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps12253

Mass mortality of marine birds in the Northeast Pacific caused by Akashiwo sanguinea

Timothy Jones1,*, Julia K. Parrish1, Andre E. Punt1, Vera L. Trainer2, Raphael Kudela3, Jennifer Lang1, Mary Sue Brancato4, Anthony Odell5, Barbara Hickey6

1School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington, 1122 NE Boat Street, Seattle, WA 98105, USA
2National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Fisheries Service, Northwest Fisheries Science Center, 2725 Montlake Blvd. E., Seattle, WA 98112 USA
3Ocean Sciences Department, 1156 High Street, University of California, Santa Cruz, CA 95064, USA
4NOAA, Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, National MPA Center, Silver Spring, MD 20910, USA
5Olympic Natural Resources Center, University of Washington, PO Box 1628, Forks, WA 98331, USA
6School of Oceanography, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98105, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Harmful algal blooms (HABs) are dense concentrations of phytoplankton that can have deleterious effects on marine life. We documented two of the largest marine bird mortality events ever definitively ascribed to a single HAB, the cause of which was death resulting from plumage fouling by surfactant-like proteins produced by the dinoflagellate Akashiwo sanguinea. The two mortality events were observed along the coast of Washington State in September and October 2009, collectively representing an estimated deposition of 10500 carcasses, of which the majority were surf scoters, white-winged scoters and common murres. Each mortality event was coincident in space and time with observed bloom landfall, with each event preceded by a similar chain of environmental conditions. Prior to each event, the presence of A. sanguinea and upwelling-favourable conditions likely led to bloom proliferation. In both cases, this period was followed by conditions that transported the senescent bloom into the nearshore environment, whereupon subsequent wave action lysed A. sanguinea cells, creating foam that contained surfactant-like compounds. This sequence of conditions, exacerbated by the presence of aggregations of marine birds in wing moult, appear to be the necessary requirements for marine bird mortality of this scale due to foam-induced plumage fouling. This mechanism of HAB-induced mortality may become more prevalent in the California Current System given the apparent increasing occurrence of HABs and the broad environmental tolerances exhibited by A. sanguinea.


KEY WORDS: Harmful algal bloom · Dinoflagellates · Scoters · Common murres · Beached birds · Citizen science


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Cite this article as: Jones T, Parrish JK, Punt AE, Trainer VL and others (2017) Mass mortality of marine birds in the Northeast Pacific caused by Akashiwo sanguinea. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 579:111-127. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps12253

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