Newly discovered West Coast arrhythmias cause

water temperatures 6 degrees Celsius above normal and causing the typical boom in small, prey fish populations to occur too late for feeding salmon, seabirds, and whales.

"In 2005 we saw no upwelling in the spring, but then it came on so strong that we saw the same amount of upwelling in two months that we usually see in six," says Bill Peterson of NOAA. "The salmon go out to sea in mid-April to mid-May, that is when they always go out. But in 2005 they found nothing to eat -- by the time upwelling started, they were dead, starved to death."

Then, in 2006, unusually strong winds doubled the typical amount of upwelling, and increased the influx of nutrients to the system, but these strong winds ebbed in the month of May, just when salmon went out to sea. These mismatches in timing of upwelling are critical for many salmon species whose return to spawning grounds has been only 2-4% in recent years, and Peterson predicts that 2007 will be another low year for salmon returns.

Sea-bird Die-offs

In the spring of 2005, the volunteers who work as citizen scientists patrolling beaches found tens of thousands of seabirds washing up dead on beaches in Washington, Oregon and California. Emaciated birds littered the beaches because the normal spring upwelling that fuels food production didn't occur until much later in the season.

"In Oregon, the volunteers would literally wade through 80 dead birds in a mile. They feared no birds would survive," says Julia Parrish of the University of Washington who leads the citizen scientist program. Murres' and cormorants' breeding cycles are timed to coincide with the boost in prey fish in the spring. Tied to coastal breeding colonies, they are not strong enough fliers to travel hundreds of miles to find new food sources.

In 2006, scientists have also documented unusual die-offs of migratory seabirds such as auklets that visit the US West coast during the winter months. "They

Contact: Jessica Brown

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