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As Yosty mentioned, during the years of 2014 and 2015 scientists with Gulf Watch Alaska began to notice multiple strange occurrences happening in the Gulf, and they wondered how these could be connected.

Seabird die-offs news stories

The area of water monitored by the team of scientists at Gulf Watch Alaska is crucial for the survival of animals in and surrounding the Gulf, as well as the populations of people situated on the coast. Using the power and capabilities of the Gulf Watch Alaska team, scientists have begun to piece together the mystery of these strange events. But before figuring out how these events are connected, the scientists needed to fully understand the scope of what was happening in 2014 and 2015.

Starting in the winter of 2014, residents of communities surrounding the Gulf of Alaska were witness to a very concerning phenomenon happening to one of the area’s most familiar seabirds, the common murre.

Striking numbers of common murres were washing up dead along the coast, and thousands were traveling unusually far inland and away from their feeding grounds in the Gulf of Alaska. It is considered normal for common murre populations to intermittently experience large-scale die-offs, known as wrecks, but the series of die-offs beginning in the winter of 2014 and extending through 2016 were unparalleled in the historic record, both in terms of geographic area and length of time.

Common murres on beach

As the initial reports of these unusual common murre deaths and migratory patterns began making their way to the scientists of Gulf Watch Alaska, there was a lot of speculation about what could be causing this event. Travel with Yosty to meet Gulf Watch Alaska Scientist Kathy Kuletz to hear her account of the common murre die-off event and how her research seeks to understand what was causing the die-off.

Click the video below to hear Kathy’s experience with the common murres.

VIDEO: Kathy Kuletz and the Common Murres

Kathy Kuletz talks about common murre die-offs and their potential causes, and some of the challenges scientists face when trying to study these events. (3:45)

Video Transcript




Who is watching the Blob?

Meet Kathy
Meet Sonia
Meet Seth

Study area map

  Carcass (n): the full skeletal and organ remains of a dead organism
  Crucial (adj): very important to the success or failure of something
  Data (n): values of something measured
  Domoic acid (n): an acid produced by algae that accumulates in the shellfish that consume the algae, affecting the brain and nervous system of the animals that eat the shellfish
  Food chain (n): the organization of organisms in an ecosystem, describing which organisms eat which
  Intermittently (adv): happening in an irregular pattern
  Phenomenon (n): a situation that is observed for which the cause is unknown or questioned
  Saxatoxin (n): a toxin produced by algae that accumulates in the shellfish that consume the algae, causing illness in the animals that eat the shellfish
  Speculation (n): a theory or idea without evidence to support it
  Unparalleled (adj): having no equal or match, something that is unique
  Unprecedented (adj): never seen or experienced before
  Wrecks (n): large die-offs of common murres that have happened periodically throughout history