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Alaska scientist blames toxins for 2016 puffin die-off

April 6, 2017

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — An Anchorage-based scientist says paralytic shellfish poisoning is to blame for the deaths of more than 300 puffins that washed up in the Pribilof Islands in the Bering Sea last fall. Ecologist Bruce Wright’s opinion is different from most scientists who believe the puffins died of starvation.

Wright, with the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association, believes the puffins and the thousands of common murres that died in the Gulf of Alaska in 2015 were affected by the shellfish poisoning.

“My colleagues are reluctant to say the things that I am saying because most scientists feel like they have to have rock-solid data in their hands to draw these conclusions,” Wright said. His approach to science is to “to make predictions based on your best judgment and the data you have.”

Warmer ocean water promotes the growth of toxic algal blooms, which can be potentially fatal for animals, Alaska’s Energy Desk reported (http://bit.ly/2oKJfuh).

Wright suspects paralytic shellfish poisoning had a role in both bird die-offs because big algal blooms were documented before the birds washed ashore.

He acknowledged his hypothesis is based more on speculation than hard evidence. But his hypothesis is important to consider, as the toxins have the potential to transform Pacific Ocean ecosystems, he said.

“You’re not going to be right all the time, but somebody’s got to tell the managers that look, this could be what’s coming down the pipe,” Wright said. “We need to plan ahead.”

Lauren Divine, co-director of St. Paul’s Ecosystem Conservation Office, said paralytic shellfish poisoning could be partly to blame, but she still believes starvation is what caused the puffins to die.

“Whether they missed a cue, or they were in the wrong place, or they were in the right place but the food wasn’t in the right place — is a total mystery,” Divine said.


Information from: KTOO-FM, http://www.ktoo.org

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