On Sunday, Austin Ahmasuk went along the beach to his camp at the Sinuk River, about 28 miles from Nome, and shortly after hitting West Beach past the port, he found one dead seabird on the shore. And then another, and another.
In total, he said, he spotted 66 dead seabirds of various species and in various states of decay on this 28-mile stretch of beach.
“In my opinion, I think 66 dead birds seems out of the norm,” he said in an interview with The Nome Nugget. Ahmasuk described the birds being auklets, murres, gulls, scooters, some puffins and cormorants. He also noticed a Black-legged Kittiwake acting in a peculiar way. “It was acting kind of drunk,” he described. “It was half-heartedly flying away, trying to dive and then didn’t.” He said the seascape was rough and the wind was blowing around 15 mph, with overcast skies.
Ahmasuk reported his observations to the Nome-based agent of the Alaska SeaGrant program Gay Sheffield and to Kawerak subsistence director Brandon Ahmasuk. Brandon Ahmasuk noted that sometimes birds die naturally when blown by strong winds off course or in the springtime or winter when food is scarce, but the number of birds and the timing – midsummer — strikes him as unusual. In the fall of 2013 a significant number of seabirds were found dead on St. Lawrence Island and the cause was determined to have been Avian Cholera. A few years later, a multi-species die-off event happened at the Pribilof Islands and it was determined that the birds died of starvation.
Sheffield reported the die off to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Migratory Bird Management office in Anchorage. Kathy Kuletz, biologist with USFWS, agreed with…
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