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Investigation of algal toxins in a multispecies seabird die-off in the Bering and Chukchi seas

March 25, 2021

Between 2014 and 2017, widespread seabird mortality events were documented annually in the Bering and Chukchi seas, concurrent with dramatic reductions of sea ice, warmer than average ocean temperatures, and rapid shifts in marine ecosystems. Among other changes in the marine environment, harmful algal blooms (HABs) that produce the neurotoxins saxitoxin (STX) and domoic acid (DA) have been identified as a growing concern in this region. Although STX and DA have been documented in Alaska (US) for decades, current projections suggest that the incidence of HABs is likely to increase with climate warming and may pose a threat to marine birds and other wildlife. In 2017, a multispecies die-off consisting of primarily Northern Fulmars (Fulmarus glacialis) and Short-tailed Shearwaters (Ardenna tenuirostris) occurred in the Bering and Chukchi seas. To evaluate whether algal toxins may have contributed to bird mortality, we tested carcasses collected from multiple locations in western and northern Alaska for STX and DA. We did not detect DA in any samples, but STX was present in 60% of all individuals tested and in 88% of Northern Fulmars. Toxin concentrations in Northern Fulmars were within the range of those reported from other STX-induced bird die-offs, suggesting that STX may have contributed to mortalities. However, direct neurotoxic action by STX could not be confirmed and starvation appeared to be the proximate cause of death among birds examined in this study.

Publication Year 2021
Title Investigation of algal toxins in a multispecies seabird die-off in the Bering and Chukchi seas
DOI 10.7589/JWD-D-20-00057
Authors Caroline R. Van Hemert, Robert J. Dusek, Matthew M. Smith, Robert Kaler, Gay Sheffield, Lauren M. Divine, Kathy J. Kuletz, Susan Knowles, Julia S. Lankton, D. Ransom Hardison, R. Wayne Litaker, Timothy Jones, Hillary K. Burgess, Julia K. Parrish
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Wildlife Diseases
Index ID 70220110
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Alaska Science Center Biology WTEB; National Wildlife Health Center