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Study links seabird deaths to soap-like foam produced by red-tide algae
Date:2/21/2009

In late 2007, hundreds of dead and stranded seabirds washed up on the shores of Monterey Bay, their feathers saturated with water and coated with an unknown substance. After an intensive investigation, scientists determined that a massive "red tide" bloom of marine algae had produced a foamy soap-like substance that stripped the natural waterproofing from the birds' feathers.

This is the first documented case of its kind, but similar events may have gone undetected in the past, the researchers reported in a paper to be published in the online journal PLoS ONE on Monday, February 23.

"The problems we traditionally associate with harmful algal blooms are caused by toxins produced by the algae. In this case, it was a surfactant that removed the water-repellent properties of the feathers," said Raphael Kudela, professor of ocean sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and corresponding author of the paper.

Although this red tide bloom was nontoxic, it was very harmful to the affected birds, which included grebes, loons, northern fulmars, and surf scoters. Live birds found stranded on beaches around Monterey Bay were starving and severely hypothermic, having lost the insulation normally provided by their waterproof plumage. A total of 550 birds were stranded alive and 207 were found dead during this event.

Kudela teamed up with researchers from the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG), Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), and Moss Landing Marine Laboratories (MLML)--all members of the Central and Northern California Ocean Observing System (CeNCOOS)--to investigate the mass stranding, which occurred at the same time as the Cosco Busan oil spill in San Francisco Bay and an ongoing controversy over aerial spraying on the Central Coast to control the light brown apple moth.

"There were a lot of questions at the time about whether the stranding was related to those events, and we w
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Contact: Tim Stephens
stephens@ucsc.edu
831-459-2495
University of California - Santa Cruz
Source:Eurekalert

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