Officials: “Such a bizarre thing” off California coast — “We’re seeing multiple aborted fetuses every day” — 100,000s of seabirds that nest in area now missing… “Huge, unprecedented die-off like we’ve never seen” — Many baby seals dying after mothers led them to a cliff edge… “Brutal to watch”
KQED Science, Apr 5, 2015 (emphasis added): About thirty miles out from the Golden Gate, the federally protected Farallones are breeding grounds visited by hundreds of thousands of seabirds – many of which use the islands as a winter way station — but not this year. Gerry McChesney, manager of the site for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, says that’s a bad sign not just for the Farallon Islands but also for wildlife more broadly along California’s coast. There was also hardship for breeding marine mammals. Dozens of pregnant sea lions proved too weak to carry their pups to term “That’s such a bizarre thing,” McChesney says. “We were seeing multiple aborted fetuses every day,” 94 in total – or nearly half the number of sea lions born there in 2014. Nor was the warm winter kind to elephant seal pups. Russ Bradley, Farallon program manager for Point Blue Conservation Science, says elephant seal mothers, trying to cool off amid the unusual heat, led their pups up to a cliff that, while breezy, proved perilous – “and actually had a fair amount of pups fall into this sea channel, because they’re pups and they’re clumsy and they got too close to the edge.” “It is pretty brutal for the biologists out here that had to watch it,” McChesney says. “It was pretty tough.” Among the conspicuously absent birds was a type called Cassin’s Auklet, which feeds on krill. All along the Pacific coast, McChesney says, these birds have been suffering “a huge, unprecedented die-off like we’ve never seen” for want of food. That’s also bad news for other species that eat krill, he says, from salmon to blue whales.
US Fish & Wildlife Service, Apr 1, 2015: Over the past four months, seals and sea lions are having difficulty reproducing, local seabirds have had low colony attendance… Observations of disrupted breeding activities include: California sea lions aborting pups due to poor body condition of the mothers. Since January 9th, 94 aborted sea lion fetuses have been recorded on the islands, well in advance of their June due date. Ninety-four is almost half the total number of sea lions born on the island in 2014. High elephant seal pup mortality due to warmer air temperatures – Pup survival was low this year… Many pups died when overheating mothers led them to a cliff edge in attempts to get cool; pups then fell to their deaths. Low attendance of breeding seabirds – Farallon nesting seabirds usually visit the islands during winter, but this year winter attendance was unusually low. In fact, the Cassin’s Auklet… has been largely absent from the islands in the last few months… Since auklets feed mainly on krill, their activity and nesting success are good indicators of the availability of this food resource, which is very important for many marine predators including whales and salmon… “These unusual observations highlight the importance of monitoring our coastal wildlife,” says
KGO, Apr 2, 2015: Researchers view the Farallon Islands as a barometer for the health of the overall ocean and this year in particular has been tough. Hundreds of sea lion pups have beached themselves, but elephant seals are having trouble too… — Doug Cordell, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service: “Some of them have died when the mothers lead them to a cliffs edge attempting to get cool and the pups then fell to their deaths. We’re seeing unusual occurrences with the bird populations. Very low attendance of the breeding sea birds… Any of these things in isolation you might say, ‘Hmm, that’s interesting.’”
Feb. 22, 2015 winter pelagic trip, Monterey Bay: Shearwaters were extremely low in numbers, either because of the warm water, or because of the declining numbers which I have been talking about for the past several years, or because of both reasons.