ABSTRACT

A mass die-off of Common Murres (Uria aalge) occurred from spring 2015 to spring 2016 in the northern Gulf of Alaska. Seabird die-offs have been recorded previously in the region, but this event was unique in its long duration and wide spatial extent. In response to the die-off, Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) biologists conducted systematic beach surveys along the road system adjacent to the city of Kodiak and compiled reports from local citizens in remote locations throughout the Kodiak Archipelago to document the number of dead birds observed on beaches. Analysis of beached bird records indicated that at least 1,994 dead Common Murres were observed in the Kodiak Archipelago from 4 April 2015 to 26 April 2016. Extrapolating the density estimate, based on carcasses counted on systematic surveys on the Kodiak road system (55 murres/km, SE = 12), to all beaches in the Kodiak road system study region in the same biophysical habitat class based on Alaska ShoreZone coastal mapping, yielded an estimate of 6,305 dead Common Murres (95% CI = 3,522–9,088). In addition to Common Murres, carcasses of another 65 birds representing 15 species were found on beaches on the Kodiak road system during the die-off. The die-off event was preceded by a large-scale inshore movement by marine bird species typically seen offshore (Common Murres and shearwater species), as documented by Kodiak NWR survey data and by local observers throughout the archipelago. Survey data indicate the population estimate for Common Murres in the northeastern region of the archipelago increased from 711 in June 2012 to 31,543 in June 2015 (4,335% increase), and from 5,063 in August 2012 to 64,039 in August 2015 (1,165% increase).

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