SOURCE: National Geographic

DATE: November 8, 2016

SNIP: “The Bering Sea has been off-the-charts warm,” said Nate Mantua, an ecologist at NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center in Santa Cruz, California. “We’ve never seen anything like this. We’re in uncharted territory. We’re in the midst of an extraordinary time.”

Several hundred birds have now washed up, nearly 200 times the normal rate. And since St. Paul and its rocky sister island, St. George, are the only land masses anywhere nearby, scientists are certain they’re seeing just a tiny fraction of the deaths.

“In 10 years of monitoring, we’ve only seen six puffins wash in—total,” said Julia Parrish, a University of Washington professor who coordinates a West Coast volunteer bird-monitoring network. “Now we’ve seen nearly 250 in 20 days. And these islands are small dots in the middle of a huge ocean. The entire puffin population is only 6,000 birds, and we project half that many may be affected.”

Parrish said the birds—deep-diving fish eaters that chow on forage fish, such as baby walleye pollock—aren’t sick. Scientists see no evidence of disease. The animals are just in such an advanced state of starvation “they appear to be eating themselves inside out.”