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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Birds and Fish Dying in the North Atlantic

There was an interesting news item awhile back about millions of dollars worth of farm raised salmon being killed off by a population explosion of a certain type of jellyfish known as the mauve stinger. (Belfast Telegraph story here.) Some people, of course, were quick to blame global warming, observing that this particular type of jellyfish has never been this far north in these types of concentrations or numbers. Others pointed to cyclic activity and the earth's natural ebb and flow as the cause. Either way, one thing we can say for sure, there's nothing natural about farming salmon in unspoiled coastal areas. It's industrialization, plain and simple. (I'm not saying this is bad, just calling it for what it is, part of man's industrialized complex.)

But here's another story -- and I want to thank my friends at BIRDCHAT for bringing this to my attention -- about pelagic seabirds dying from eating, or trying to eat snake pipefish, a species of small fish typically found in northern waters in only small numbers. For a bref overview I've taken the liberty of copying and pasting a post by Wim Vader of the Tromsø Museum in Tromsø, Norway.
The Snake Pipefish Entelurus aequoreus, a quite large and somewhat pelagic pipefish species has indeed during the last few years experienced an explosive population increase im the North East Atlantic: in N.Norway, where I live, this used to be a rarity, only occurring in the area west of the North Cape. When I published my fish list of the area in 1979, not much more than 50 specimens had been reported. Now, in the last years, many hundreds are washed ashore on the outer coast near Tromsø, the seabirds also here feed pipefish to their young, often with disastrous results, and the species has also extended its distribution: it has been found (vomited by a Kittiwake) at Hornøya nëar the Norwegian/Russian border, and even off Ny Ålesund, at 78*N off the west coast of Spitsbergen (Fleischer 2007)!. Harris and colleagues (2007) have shown a similar explosive population growth on the Scottish coast, and what it has meant for the seabirds there, and this is probably what has been referred to in the National Geographic.

In these northern waters such sudden flare-ups of certain species are not unheard of, and in my opinion it is a bit too easy to blame this pipefish bonanza without more ado to Global warming; Mike Harris is very careful not to do so. Puffins, who fish mostly pelagically, will of course meet these pipefish most often.


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