Newly discovered West Coast arrhythmias cause

appear to be starving to death at sea. It's not bird flu, not another disease, not oiling or some other chemical," says Parrish.

Increases in the severity or frequency of storms, a prediction from climate change models, may also be a major factor in the survival of these seabirds. Winter die-offs are linked to stormy weather conditions.

"The total number of wrecks (die-offs) is increasing over time, as is the severity of these events and their duration," says Parrish. "This year we are heading into a mild El Nino and we are sitting on pins and needles to see what happens."

Unprecedented Dead Zones

The supercharged upwelling in 2006 also created thick, green-brown waters off the coasts of Oregon and Washington. When these phytoplankton and zooplankton blooms sank to the sea floor and decayed, they consumed large amounts of oxygen, creating a 3,000 square kilometer "dead zone" that took up nearly two thirds of the water column and squeezed mobile animals like rockfish into shallow habitats and suffocated everything that could not swim away.

"Phytoplankton blooms are normally thought to be a good thing because they ultimately support the food webs that produce the crabs, salmon and tuna," says Bruce Menge or Oregon State University. "But too much of a good thing can be bad."

Two months into the dead zone, the scientists surveyed the sea floor. "We were shocked to see a graveyard," Chan said. "Frame after frame of carcass, carcass, carcass. Dead crabs, dead worms, dead sea stars." Two weeks later the scientists returned to the same place. This once biologically diverse habitat was covered with a white bacterial mass, indicating that the system had turned from low to no oxygen.

"The fact that we saw no fish - alive or dead - suggests that many were able to escape," says Lubchenco. "In previous years, fish that have escaped the low-oxygen area appear to have returned once the oxygen was renewed. Th

Contact: Jessica Brown

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