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Mass mortality of short-tailed shearwaters in the south-eastern Bering Sea during summer 1997

Authors


BADUINI * e-mail: cbaduini@uci.edu

Abstract

During summer 1997, hundreds of thousands of emaciated short-tailed shearwaters (Puffinus tenuirostris) died in the south-eastern Bering Sea. Using strip transect methodology, we documented the distribution and abundance of short-tailed shearwaters during cruises conducted prior to, during, and after the die-off, as well as the distributions and abundances of floating carcasses. The distributions and abundances of short-tailed shearwaters in 1997 were similar to those found during the 1970s and early 1980s. In August–September 1997, we observed 163 floating shearwater carcasses, most of which were between St Paul Island and Nunivak Island. We estimated ≈ 190 000 carcasses were afloat in the study area, about 11% of the surveyed population. Between spring (June) and autumn (August/September), mean net body mass of shearwaters decreased by 19%, mean pectoral muscle mass decreased by 14%, and mean percentage body lipid content decreased by 46%, from 15.6% in spring to 8.4% in autumn. Compared with spring, short-tailed shearwater diets broadened in autumn 1997, to include, in addition to adult euphausiids Thysanoessa raschii, juveniles of T. inermis, T. raschii and T. spinifera, crab megalops, fish and squid. We discuss how the ecosystem anomalies in the south-eastern Bering Sea during spring and summer 1997 relate to the mortality event and suggest possible implications of long-term climate change for populations of apex predators in the south-eastern Bering Sea.

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