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Talking with Kathy, Yosty learned that the common murres in the Gulf of Alaska were starving during this period of uncharacteristically warm water. This common murre die-off event was very puzzling for scientists because there was not a clear reason as to why the birds were behaving abnormally. If the birds were not getting enough food, there must be something in the Gulf of Alaska impacting the food chain.

North Pacific food chain

Scientists study all levels of marine food webs, beginning with the organisms at the base — the plankton. Plankton are a diverse group of living organisms that spend at least part of their life floating through the water column, unable to swim against the current. Plankton consist of both plants and animals and help to form the base of the marine food chain.

Every organism that relies on the ocean for food depends on an adequate supply of plankton to keep the ecosystem properly fed. Even animals that don’t eat plankton themselves, like the common murres, require enough healthy plankton to feed the fish and invertebrates that they prey upon. So, if the common murres were starving, causing them to move close to shore and inland to search for food, and dying in large numbers, there might be some evidence that maybe something was different about the amount or types of plankton in the Gulf of Alaska those years.

Following this lead, Yosty moves forward in the investigation by questioning Gulf Watch scientist Sonia Batten, who specializes in monitoring plankton populations to understand what had been happening at the base of the Gulf’s food chain that might have been related to the murre die-off.

Watch the video below to hear what Sonia has observed with the plankton in the Gulf of Alaska.

VIDEO: Sonia Batten and Plankton

Sonia Batten describes her observations of plankton in the Gulf of Alaska. (4:17)

Video Transcript






Who is watching the Blob?

Meet Kathy
Meet Sonia
Meet Seth

Study area map

  Abnormally (adv): different from what is normal
  Diverse (adj): a lot of variety
  Invertebrate (n): an organism lacking a backbone
  Organism (n): an individual life form
  Phytoplankton (n): freely floating, often minute plants that drift with water currents
  Productive (adj): producing enough energy to sustain life
  Zooplankton (n): freely floating animals that drift with water currents