Heartbreak at the Ocean

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Cassin’s Auklet, Boone Creek, Copalis Beach, WA

We had read about the death of thousands of these birds along the coast, but we were totally unprepared to see them in person. We were vacationing on the Washington coast, north of Ocean Shores. Swept up on beaches, emaciated, most likely victims of starvation, and ultimately drowning (a bitter irony for creatures who live their lives on the ocean), Cassin’s Auklets are perishing in unprecedented numbers along the west coast of the US.

The birding isn’t all that wonderful on the coast in January, but we were there to see thousands of Dunlin and Sanderlings, swooping, running, and feeding on the beaches, along with a few hardy rockpeeps on the jettys.

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Cassin’s Auklet, Roosevelt Rd beach access, Copalis, WA. Volunteers attach colored zip ties to dead birds to help with accurate mortality counts.

But it was hard to enjoy much of anything while looking at dozens of dead Cassin’s Auklets. It was easy to see how our small sampling would translate to huge numbers overall. Why are the dead bodies these small, once beautiful creatures rotting on our beaches? Some have said there may have been a huge hatch, and, since many juveniles die every year anyway – maybe this is just a reflection of a natural occurrence, magnified a few times.

Common sense leads me to climate change, but what do I know? Below are a few links to some of the many recent news articles about this sad event.

http://www.latimes.com/science/la-na-dead-birds-20150103-story.html  http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/3145997-181/large-scale-die-off-of-small-seabird http://seattletimes.com/html/nationworld/2025382523_apxaukletsdieoff.html

Here’s what this beautiful little bird is supposed to look like:

Ptychoramphus aleuticus Cassin's Auklet
Image credit: David A. Hofmann

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