U.S. investigates mystery of auklet deaths

  • Mar. 3, 2015 7:00 a.m.

By Evelyn von AlmassyHaida Gwaii ObserverAn investigation into the hundreds of dead auklets found on the shores of Haida Gwaii is producing more questions than answers.Environment Canada released the results of the necropsies on Feb. 23.”Environment Canada’s coordination of lab testing of Cassin’s Auklets has concluded the birds died of drowning and were of mixed ages – some juvenile, sub-adults and adults,” said Melanie Quesnel of Environment Canada in an email. Tlell resident Cacilia Honisch found the bodies of approximately 250 dead Cassin’s Auklets between Wiggins Rd. and Misty Meadows Campground on Dec. 19. More than 100,000 of the dead birds have been found between B.C. and California since October. The birds on Haida Gwaii were found after a strong southeast storm hit the islands on Dec. 18, with winds in excess of 100 kilometres per hour.”At this time, cause of the drowning is unknown and further investigation, led by the United States, is underway. There continues to be no sign that the deaths of the birds are linked to disease, poison, or other contagion.”Biologist Julia Parrish of the University of Washington is reported to say evidence suggests the birds are starving to death, but it’s unclear why. Other birds that feed on the same types of shrimp and plankton have not been affected in the same manner.Dr. Parrish said in a CBC report, “…are Cassin’s auklets the canary in the coal mine, telling us that there is something wrong in the system or is this a one-off?”The small, chunky bird is a member of a larger family of seabirds, auks, and ranges widely in the North Pacific from Mexico to Alaska. They have dull, grey-brown feathers year-round, and their feet are bright blue, with a pale pink patch on the lower half of their bill.Until recently, the Cassin’s Auklet had been listed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife (COSEWIC) in Canada as an animal of “Least Concern”, but in November 2014, their designation changed to “Special Concern.” The next scheduled wildlife species assessment meeting will be held in Quebec City in April 2015. Until results come in from the US the mystery of the Cassin’s auklets remains unsolved. The small, chunky bird is a member of a larger family of seabirds, auks, and ranges widely in the North Pacific from Mexico to Alaska. They have dull, grey-brown feathers year-round, and their feet are bright blue, with a pale pink patch on the lower half of their bill.Until recently, the Cassin’s Auklet had been listed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife (COSEWIC) in Canada as an animal of “Least Concern”, but in November 2014, their designation changed to “Special Concern.” The next scheduled wildlife species assessment meeting will be held in Quebec City in April 2015. Until results come in from the US the mystery of the Cassin’s auklets remains unsolved.

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