Apex marine predator declines ninety percent in association with changing oceanic climate


Richard R. Veit Department of Zoology, Box 351800, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195–1800, USA (Fax +1-718-982-3852)veit@postbox.csi.cuny.edu


Three time series of pelagic bird abundance collected in disparate portions of the California Current reveal a 90% decline in Sooty Shearwater (Puffinus griseus) abundance between 1987 and 1994. This decline is negatively correlated with a concurrent rise in sea-surface temperatures; Sooty Shearwaters have declined while sea temperatures have risen. There is a nine-month lag in the response by shearwaters to changing temperatures. The geographical scale of our study demonstrates that the decline of Sooty Shearwaters is not a localized phenomenon, nor can it be ascribed to a short-term distributional shift. The Sooty Shearwater is the numerically dominant species of the California Current System (CCS) in summer (austral winter), with an estimated population in the late 1970s of 5 million individuals. If the observed warming of the waters of the California Current System is an irreversible manifestation of a changing global climate, then the impact upon Sooty Shearwater populations seems likely to be profound.