Dec 30, 2016
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Thousands of snow geese were burned and poisoned to death when they landed in a Montana mine tailings lake filled with acid and toxic metals.
The 700-acre Berkeley Pit is a massive crevice left behind from nearly 30 years of copper mining. It filled up with water 900 feet deep, which then accumulated toxic levels of inorganic compounds including arsenic, cadmium, cobalt, copper, iron and zinc. The water is as acidic as distilled vinegar, strong enough to liquefy the steel propeller of a motorboat.
The pit is a Superfund site and also a tourist attraction, where people pay $2 to see the toxic, reddish water. It has also become renowned as a location to study extremophiles, microorganisms that can persist in conditions toxic to most life.
Flock of unprecedented size
The Pit is maintained by mining companies Montana Resources and Atlantic Richfield, which since 1995 have been responsible for preventing birds from landing in the toxic lake. In late November, an off-duty Montana Resources employee called to notify Berkeley Pit staff that a flock of about 25,000 snow geese was in the air about 25 miles away.
– “Mind Blowing”: Die-off in Pacific far worse than anything ever seen before — Expert: Alarm over what’s happening in ocean — Deaths puzzling gov’t scientists, “I’ve never heard of such a thing anywhere in world” — Reports: Beaches full of bodies… Countless carcasses — Official: We want to know if it’s related to Fukushima (VIDEO):
AP, Mar 24, 2016 (emphasis added): Alaska’s massive seabird die-off spreads… Federal biologists last week walked… Katmai National Park and counted 2,000 dead seabirds… “[That’s only] a hint of what probably was there… every beach we looked at had dead birds” [US Fish & Wildlife Service’s Robb Kaler said]… “if we had rakes we would have found a lot more,” [said retired USGS biologist Tony DeGange]… [Officials surveyed the area] in 2009 and 2012 [and] counted zero and 14 common murres… Last week [they] counted hundreds.
AP, Mar 24, 2016: Seabird die-off takes twist… thousands of common murres were found dead [in an Alaskan] lake… experts were puzzled. “We’ve talked about unprecedented things about this die off. That’s another one,” said [USGS biologist] John Piatt… “6,000, 8,000 birds in the lake is pretty mind-blowing, really… I’ve never heard of any such a thing anywhere in the world.”… [F]ederal agencies are trying to determine if the murre deaths are connected to lack of food… or something else…”This is the thing about this die-off,” Piatt said. “We don’t even know what we don’t know.”
Watch the video here:
As he walked on a beach in the western Prince William Sound town of Whittier, seabird biologist David Irons was startled when he saw hundreds of white lumps on the black rock beach.
They were dead seabirds, in what he would discover were likely record numbers, a sign the ecosystem was being troubled by abnormally warm ocean water.
The dead birds, common murres that had starved, were lined up and left where the tide had dropped them on the shore.
“We have never found close to 8,000 birds on a 1-mile long beach before,” Irons said of his early January discovery. “It is an order of magnitude larger than any records that I am aware of.”
– “Mind-blowing” die off of seabirds underway from California to Alaska — Experts: “This is unprecedented… Worst I’ve ever seen… Why they’re dying, I’m still baffled” — “Every bird we’re seeing is starving to death… Basically withering away” — “Catastrophic molting” due to unknown cause (VIDEO):
San Francisco Chronicle, Oct 15, 2015 (emphasis added): [T]housands of common murres… have been found dead… “all signs point to starvation from a lack of forage fish,” [Marine ecologist Kirsten Lindquist] said, adding that the same problem has been documented along the Oregon, Washington and Alaska coastlines… many endemic marine birds and mammals are suffering.
International Bird Rescue, Sep 22, 2015: An unprecedented number of exhausted, hungry seabirds continue to flood International Bird Rescue’s San Francisco Bay Center… The sight of so many starving seabirds has raised red flags among seabird scientists…
– Die-off of birds all over Alaska beaches, floating in Pacific — “They seem to be starving” — Record-breaking spike in rescues, “such a dramatic increase” — Deformed and abnormal animals reported (PHOTOS & AUDIO) (ENENews, Aug 8, 2015):
KBBI, Aug 4, 2015 (emphasis added): Bird Death Reports Are Up In Homer, Food Sources Possibly To Blame — The Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge is receiving multiple reports indicating a significant increase in dead and dying birds found on beaches… Leslie Slater is the Gulf of Alaska Unit Biologist for the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge… says there are a lot of potential reasons for the increase in fatalities but the prevailing cause is likely tied to the birds’ food sources. “What we’re seeing more precisely is that birds seem to be starving. That’s sort of the ultimate cause of their deaths but something might be happening before that… biotoxins can build up through the food chain and ultimately cause the deaths of these birds.” These deaths don’t seem to be isolated to Homer’s beaches. There are reports of similar deaths down the Alaska Peninsula and the eastern edge of the Aleutians. Slater says it’s possible they could be related to dead whales found near Kodiak… She warns the public not to touch dead birds because they could be carrying disease.
– US Gov’t: “We don’t know what’s going on” in Pacific — Many ill baby seals being abandoned; Dozens of walruses found dead; Dying whales, birds, fish — “Unprecedented things happening” — Experts: “It’s been a very unusual marine mammal year… I’m really worried, very concerned” (AUDIO) (ENENews, Aug 7, 2015):
Alaska Dispatch News, Jul 24, 2015 (emphasis added): Ailing seal pup rescued in latest discovery of distressed Alaska marine mammals … one of a string of marine mammals injured or killed in Alaska waters this year. An orphaned and injured seal pup… was one of several found this summer, federal agency officials said… The pup was lethargic and very thin — only 16.5 pounds… It was the second such case this week, NOAA spokeswoman Julie Speegle said Friday. An orphaned seal was picked up in Metlakatla… NOAA officials were also called out to another case in Yakutat recently, she said. “We don’t know what’s going on in the environment, but it does seem to be an unusual year,” Speegle said. Seal pups are not the only marine mammals experiencing some difficulty in waters off Alaska. NOAA and the University of Alaska Fairbanks are conducting an investigation into the deaths of 14 whales… U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been investigating the deaths of approximately 25 walruses found in the area of the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge… Carrie Goertz, a staff veterinarian at the SeaLife Center, said… she agreed that there have been some out-of-the-ordinary events with marine mammals in general. “There’s definitely been some clusters of unusual deaths,” she said.
– Senior Scientist: “Birds in such bad condition” off West Coast — Zero babies survive on islands, usually over 15,000 — “Extremely poor” breeding success… they didn’t even try — Before and after photos show beaches deserted (VIDEO) (ENENews, June 11, 2015):
William J. Sydeman, Ph.D., President & Farallon Institute Senior Scientist, Pacific Anomalies Science and Technology Workshop, May 6, 2015 starting at 1:34:45 (emphasis added):
- This [chart] shows the nesting success of the brown pelicans in the Gulf of California… 2010-13, of about 22,000 pairs that are nesting, an average production of about 1 young per pair. In 2014… The productivity was essentially zero. So there’s very low breeding propensity and very low productivity.
- That’s what a typical colony looked like in Apr 2006… the same image in 2014 — so nobody was home.
- And then another place… Hermann’s Gulls its another species, this is what the colony looked like in May of 2004. And 2014, again nobody was home, no efforts [see photo on right].
– 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” (AUDIO) (ENENews, April 9, 2015):
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.
– Alarming epidemic causing mass die-off along California coast — “Nasty, cheese-like lesions” prevent birds from eating, breathing — Newly discovered parasite being blamed — Experts: “Surprising… Very concerning… Sudden increase is disturbing” (GRAPHIC PHOTOS) (ENENews, Feb 21, 2015):
San Luis Obispo (SLO) Tribune, Feb 18, 2015 (emphasis added): I am a volunteer at Pacific Wildlife Care… there is an ongoing problem throughout California with band-tailed pigeons that have grown sick or are dying of Trichomoniasis – a protozoan that causes lesions to form in the throat and nasal passages.
San Francisco Chronicle, Feb 2, 2015: Mass pigeon deaths alarm biologists — An alarming increase in the number of dead and dying band-tailed pigeons along the California coast… apparent victims of a parasite… The sudden increase in mortality is disturbing, [Krysta Rogers, Calif. Dept. of Fish & Wildlife] said… “[It] is very concerning… Right now, it’s really hard to estimate mortality because… if there are deaths in remote locations, we’re not getting reports.”… [The parasite] lives in the mouth and throat of infected birds, causing lesions in the mouth or esophagus that eventually block the passage of food. Infected birds die from starvation or suffocation.
– Unprecedented: ‘Cataclysmic’ die-off of birds on entire West Coast — Beaches covered with dead bodies — Professor: It’s tragic… never seen anything like this… We ignore it at our peril… Canary in the coalmine for us… Scrambling to figure out what’s going on with ecosystem (VIDEOS) (ENENews, Jan 9, 2015):
Statesman Journal, Jan 2, 2015 (emphasis added): Why is the beach covered in dead birds?… “I’ve never seen that many before”… a mass die-off [is] going on along the entire West Coast… “To be this lengthy and geographically widespread, I think is kind of unprecedented,” [said Phillip Johnson of the Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition].
– ‘Mysterious Phenomena’ off U.S. West Coast: Fish disappeared, whales nearly absent, no krill, high rates of egg failure among birds — California Fishermen: “There’s almost nothing there, just a lot of warm clear water” (ENENews, Nov 4, 2014):
San Jose Mercury News, Nov. 2, 2014: Rare changes in wind patterns this fall have caused the Pacific Ocean off California and the West Coast to warm to historic levels, drawing in a bizarre menagerie of warm-water species. The mysterious phenomena are surprising fishermen… El Niño isn’t driving this year’s warm-water spike… Nor is climate change… All year [NOAA] scientists… have been forecasting an El Niño… But now the water is only slightly warmer than normal at the equator, leading scientists to declare a mild El Niño is on the way… The ocean changes also have affected birds. As ocean upwelling stalled in the summer, less krill and other food rose from the depths. As a result, several species of birds, including common murres, had high rates of egg failure on the Farallon Islands, 27 miles west of San Francisco.
– Beyond honey bees, neonicotinoid pesticides now found to be killing baby birds (Natural News, July 20, 2014):
A class of pesticides widely blamed for a worldwide collapse in pollinator populations is also devastating populations of birds, according to a new study conducted by researchers from Radboud University in the Netherlands and the Centre for Field Ornithology and Birdlife Netherlands, and published in the journal Nature on July 16.
The chemicals, known as neonicotinoids, have increasingly come under fire for widespread destruction of organisms other than agricultural pests.
– Emergency research underway in Japan after birds found with perplexing deformities — “Something unusual occurring inside their bodies” — Never reported in 500,000 exams done before 3/11 — Now observed at every site across country, some over 1,000 km from Fukushima (PHOTO) (ENENews, June 25, 2014):
Asahi Shimbun, June 25, 2014: [Noboru Nakamura, a researcher at the Yamashina Institute for Ornithology] has visited the riverbed [in Fukushima] 20 times […] looking into whether the earthquake or the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant caused abnormal changes among wild birds. […] [Researchers] first verified abnormal change [200 kilometers from Fukushima Daiichi] in Niigata Prefecture […] Oct. 24, 2011, a common reed bunting, a small migratory bird, was found with uneven tail feathers that had a moth-eaten appearance. The institute started emergency surveys […] The most perplexing thing was the overly long feathers […] Its feathers very reliably grow to a certain length […] [Kiyoaki Ozaki, Yamashina Institute for Ornithology deputy director-general,] could not imagine a reason for them to be longer. By March 2012, the same abnormality was identified at all research sites across Japan, such as Tochigi, Ibaraki, Tokyo, Shizuoka, Shimane, Kagawa and Fukuoka [over 1,000 kilometers from Fukushima]. The proportion of birds with the abnormality was 13.8 percent. In at least one place, the ratio exceeded 25 percent. Birds born in 2011 account for 97.3 percent of the specimens with the abnormality. […] Researchers have found feathers that already appear moth-eaten when they split open the sheath. Some birds even grew back feathers with the same deformity after the researchers plucked out older, misshapen feathers. […] One thing is certain: The common reed […] pass through or stop in the Tohoku region during their migration.
Noboru Nakamura, a researcher at the Yamashina Institute for Ornithology: “In Iitate, I caught a Japanese bush warbler in the net yesterday. It had feathers missing from the back of its head, and its skin was dark on that part. I found the same thing last year and the year before in Minami-Soma. I don’t know the reason.”
– SF Chronicle: “Unbelievable hordes” of fish near California coast; Most birds, sea lions, dolphins, whales anywhere — Expert: ‘Off the charts’ pelican population “highly unusual… could reflect breeding failures elsewhere”; “Abnormal ocean conditions” to blame? (ENENews, May 1, 2014):
San Francisco Chronicle, Apr. 26, 2014: In the past year, Monterey Bay has become the richest marine region on the Pacific Coast. In the past three weeks, it has reached a new peak with unbelievable hordes of anchovies, along with other baitfish, and with it, the highest numbers of salmon, marine birds, sea lions, gray whales, humpback whales and orcas anywhere. The bay ignited with life […] upwelling in the underwater canyon and jump-started the marine food chain. […] A week ago Monday, the humpbacks and killer whales arrived. Tony Lorenz on the Sea Wolf sent me an alert, that he saw 50 humpback whales […] A school of Pacific white-sided dolphin, numbering over a thousand, has also been sighted […] the orcas found a mother gray whale with a calf […] dragged the baby whale below the surface and drowned it […] In the past few days, Lorenz reported another attack, where the orcas dragged a carcass of a baby whale around for hours, and then when a sea lion showed up to see what was going on, it got nailed, too.
– LA Times: Experts suggest bald eagle deaths are related to Fukushima radiation — Idaho officials reporting similar sickness — “It’s hard to have your national bird in your arms, going through seizures” (AUDIO) (ENENews, Dec 30, 2013):
Los Angeles Times, Dec. 29, 2013: Bald eagles are dying in Utah — 20 in the past few weeks alone — and nobody can figure out why. […] Many suffered from seizures, head tremors and paralysis […] Many of the eagles were brought to the mammoth Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah […] Within 48 hours, most were dead. […] State wildlife specialists are baffled. […] At first, the agency’s disease scientists guessed the illness could be encephalitis, which is caused by the West Nile virus, but later ruled out that possibility. […] Officials at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center have their own theories. Some point to radiation from Japan after the 2011 meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. […] A call from Idaho shed new light: A wildlife official said bald eagles there were also getting sick, suggesting the birds were arriving in Utah already in bad health.
– ‘High Alert’: Mystery illness killing bald eagles in Western U.S. — Wings paralyzed, full blown seizures — Experts: “Very big concern”… “Never seen anything like this”… “It’s something new”… “We just don’t know what’s going on” (VIDEOS) (ENENews, dec 29, 2013):
KUTV, Dec. 28, 2013: Wildlife experts are on high alert as more bald eagles are found suffering from a mysterious illness […] It’s a very big concern. Wildlife experts have never seen anything like this before with bald eagles. […] Wildlife experts have never seen bald eagles suffer like this before in Utah and scientists are unsure of what is making them ill.
KSTU, Dec. 15, 2013: Officials thought the symptoms might have been from lead poisoning, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. […] “I don’t think words can describe what you see and what you feel, and the helplessness and trying to figure out what’s going on,” [DaLyn Erickson, executive director at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah] said. Symptoms suffered by the birds include, leg paralysis, wing paralysis, head tremors and seizures.
WTMJ, Dec. 26, 2013: Wildlife experts say they’ve never seen anything like this before. […] “Weakness in the legs, weakness in the wings. And then very quickly move into having tremors, and then full blown seizures.”
– Experts: “Really an off year” — Pelicans starving in Pacific Northwest since 2011, killing baby birds for food — Breeding success “really poor” since 2011 — “I believe pelicans are responding to large scale changes” — “Sardine crash” persists in Pacific since decline in 2011 (ENENews, Dec 22, 2013):
Laird Henckel, environmental scientist for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Dec. 19, 2013 (emphasis added): [P]elicans that would have normally migrated as far north as British Columbia decided to stick around the Central Coast, where an anchovy smorgasbord is taking place. […] “In 2011 and 2012, the pelicans got up there and ran out of food […] They were starving and scavenging for food” […] During this three year period, brown pelicans were reported to have been killing murre chicks for food […]
Wildlife biologist Deborah Jaques of Pacific Eco Logic in Astoria, Oregon, Dec. 19, 2013 (emphasis added): “Not as many birds flew north this year” […] she does not know what is directly causing the decline […] The large quantity of anchovies in Monterey Bay may have helped the pelicans avoid another year of starvation that has been affecting the birds for the past three years […] “Breeding success on the Channel Islands was really poor for the last three years […] For reasons unknown […] many pelicans have been overwintering in the north during the last several years instead of migrating back south around November as is expected. […] Patterns are changing, and I believe the pelicans are responding to these large scale changes.”