NL Gazette

Starvation directed to the die-off of murres in N.L. says scientists

Nfld and Labardor

Key takeaways: 

  • Officials and field crews are still probing the late March event.
  • Wildlife authorities are searching for the reason for a mass die-off of murres near Hampden, N.L. 

Two weeks after hundreds of murres were seen dead or dying close to the town of Hampden on Newfoundland’s west coast, scientists say hunger is the probable reason for death.

Dead Arctic seabirds were also seen in southern Labrador, Twillingate, and Cape Freels about the exact time.

Sabina Wilhelm, a wildlife biologist with the Canadian Wildlife Service, stated Tuesday crews deployed to Fogo Island and Twillingate found more bird carcasses the previous week, collecting them for review and autopsy in the animal health laboratory St. John’s. 

“This time of year, they feed mainly on fish and zooplankton. However, the climate can sometimes drive them inshore, or the ice pushes them. They just primarily run out of sufficient food away from their regular foraging grounds,” Wilhelm stated.

“These birds have a very high metabolism, so if they can’t provide for some days, they can fast become fragile and cannot return offshore.”

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hundreds of murres were seen dead

Wilhelm said initial results also indicate the casualties were not connected to the avian flu.

While the number of birds seen is unusual, Wilhelm said it’s not distinctive this time of year to find several seabirds dead from being caught by sea ice in bay zones.

“It’s a naturally happening event. However, we expect severe climate systems to become more common with climate change,” she said.

“Indeed, we’re keeping a tight eye on it, just to watch how often these events occur.”

‘This appears different.’

Seabird specialist Bill Montevecchi said most birds are thick-billed murres relocating to the Arctic. He said their migration relies on the sea ice and the fish associated with the ice, including capelin.

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