Wildlife rescuers are comparing this incident to a similar event that occurred in Monterey Bay in 2007. At that time, more than 500 birds washed up on the shores, dozens ultimately died, in a bizarre incident that had scientists puzzled. The nearest oil spill was 80 miles north and there was no evidence that the spill had traveled as far south as the Monterey Bay.
Upon further investigation it was discovered that what was causing the oily like slime on the birds contained no petroleum products and in fact was protein based.
Scientists were puzzled and set about figuring out what had led to the deaths of almost 200 birds.
Researchers from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), and the Moss Landing Marine Laboratories (MLML) teamed together to figure out the culprit. Postmortem analysis was conducted, and additional lab studies were run to determine the nature of the goop that coated feathers and wings. The following year, the team published their research findings in the academic journal Public Library of Science One*.
The published article said the protein that coated the bird feathers has detergent-like properties, and comes from the red tide algae Akashiwo sanguinea. At the time of the spill, or rather incident, since it was determined an oil spill was not involved, a red tide bloom was in full swing along the shores of the Monterey Bay.
The protein produced by the algae forms a soap-like foam; “a sticky, slimy froth”. The same froth was reported by surfers and rescue workers at the time of the 2007 bird incident.
Normal sea foam appears all the time in the ocean tides. Usually it fizzles away after waves recede from shore. But the incident in Monterey Bay was accompanied by a sea foam that piled up on the beaches. In fact, collections of this slimy foam lasted for a few days in the lab.
The protein in this foam helps the slimy water stick to the birds feathers. Normally, when sea birds dive in the water, their feathers shed the water to keep the birds warm and dry beneath the feather surface. But the natural defenses of birds was no match for the slime in Monterey Bay.
The slime affecting the birds in Oregon, as was the case in Monterey Bay, affects the structure of their feathers, leaving the birds unprotected from the cold and un-able to fly.
Researchers are now testing the birds being shipped from Portland to see if something similar is the reason for the “algae slime” that is coating the birds’ feathers off the coast of Oregon.
Moss Landing's Wild Rescue is helping in the effort to clean affected birds from the Pacific Northwest.
There are other algae related issues being found in ocean waters. Run off from fertilizers are helping sea algaes to thrive, which stimulates the growth and spread of Red Tides, which are becoming increasingly frequent around the world due to rising water temperatures.
Now it looks like marine wildlife has to contend with oil spills AND man induced algae blooms in their battle for survival on this planet.