Every Bird Matters
news and views from international bird rescue

February 23, 2009

Study: Seabird deaths linked to red-tide foam

An important new study about the 2007 Monterey Bay bird die off is pointing toward a red-tide algae bloom that induced a dangerous sea foam. According to the study, the birds feathers lost their water-repellant nature after being coated with the foam.

The main species in the red tide was a type of dinoflagellate known as Akashiwo sanguinea. The red tide event hit when large numbers of migrating birds had arrived in the area. Also big waves churned up the water creating the sea foam that stripped birds feathers of natural insulating properties.

Birds affected included grebes, loons, northern fulmars, and surf scoters. Stranded birds were found starving and severely hypothermic. Nearly 600 birds were located alive and 207 were found dead during this event.

According to the report, freshly stranded birds had a pungent odor similar to that of linseed oil while still wet, but with time, this material dried, leaving a fine, pale yellow crust with minimal smell.

Raphael Kudela, professor of ocean sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz, teamed up with scientists from California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG), Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), and Moss Landing Marine Laboratories (MLML)–all members of the Central and Northern California Ocean Observing System (CeNCOOS).

These kinds of red-tide events may occur more often in the future, Kulea said. These changes are probably due in part to the effects of climate change on surface water temperatures.

The study alludes to another interesting fact about other compounds in the bay worth studying:

…Extracts of seawater from four areas in northern Monterey Bay heavily impacted by the red tide were analyzed for polar and non-polar compounds by gas- and liquid chromatography-mass spectroscopy and were found to be negative for petroleum compounds, commercial surfactants, pesticides, domoic acid, okadaic acid, and microcystin toxins. However, samples of the co-occurring surface foam present at these same sites contained significant concentrations of an organic compound with a predominant chromatographic peak at 1230 mw, corresponding to a m/z 616 dimer composed of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen…

Researchers are releasing this study through an online journal called PLoS One: Mass Stranding of Marine Birds Caused by a Surfactant-Producing Red Tide

Read the Press Release on the UC Santa Cruz website

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2 Responses to “Study: Seabird deaths linked to red-tide foam”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    It is amazing to me that people/researchers are still so reluctant to point to high levels of nutrient run-off (agriculture) as a major contributing factor to these events. Weather change is just part of the equation!
    Algae needs nutrients, not just warmer water to achieve concentrated blooms.

    We need to protect our water ways and treat or eliminate such pollutants before they enter into the environment and pollute these sensitive ecosystems.

  2. Webcoot Says:

    I agree with you. Having just read the published paper more fully, I did find that they touch upon this issue:

    “…Extracts of seawater from four areas in northern Monterey Bay heavily impacted by the red tide were analyzed for polar and non-polar compounds by gas- and liquid chromatography-mass spectroscopy and were found to be negative for petroleum compounds, commercial surfactants, pesticides, domoic acid, okadaic acid, and microcystin toxins. However, samples of the co-occurring surface foam present at these same sites contained significant concentrations of an organic compound with a predominant chromatographic peak at 1230 mw, corresponding to a m/z 616 dimer composed of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen…”

    Read the full report here at PLoS One: Mass Stranding of Marine Birds Caused by a Surfactant-Producing Red Tide

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