Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Investigation of a largescale common murre (Uria aalge) mortality event in California in 2015

March 26, 2018

From August through December 2015, beachcast bird survey programs reported increased deposition of common murres (Uria aalge) on central and northern California beaches, but not on southern California beaches. Coastal wildlife rehabilitation centers received more than 1,000 live, stranded, and debilitated murres from Sonoma County to San Luis Obispo County during August–October. Approximately two-thirds of admitted birds were after-hatch-year birds in emaciated body condition and in various stages of molt, with extremely worn plumage. Necropsies were done on a sample (n=35) of birds to determine the probable cause of death of beachcast carcasses. Most birds examined during necropsy were emaciated, with starvation the most likely cause of death. Birds were also tested for underlying infectious diseases at the US Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Center (NWHC) and harmful algal bloom toxins at the University of California, Santa Cruz and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration's Northwest Fisheries Science Center. Twenty-four out of 29 tested birds had detectable levels of domoic acid, and no indication of infectious disease was found. Emaciation is thought to be the cause of death for these birds, with a large warm water anomaly and harmful algal bloom playing a secondary detrimental role.