Weird weather is messing with marine ecosystems along the West Coast

Tens of thousands of starved seabirds washed up on West Coast beaches last spring, and researchers are blaming — surprise! — above-normal ocean temperatures and weird weather and wind patterns. Half of the auklets in California’s Farallon Islands didn’t even try to breed last spring, and those that tried started late. One colony of birds in Washington state fledged 88 chicks instead of the usual 8,000. And it’s not just birds that have been suffering as ocean temperatures along the Pacific coast have risen the last three years. Populations of salmon, rockfish, and whales also seemed out of whack, and squid and plankton local to California showed up on Northwest beaches. “There are all these unconnected reports of biological failures,” said John McGowan of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif. Researchers are now working on scientific papers that will document their findings — and looking warily ahead to see what will happen this coming spring.