Overview: Seabird Mortality in Alaska
Seabirds in Alaska die for many reasons, including old age, starvation, competition with other animals, predation, weather events, marine toxins, disease, pollution, interaction with humans and man-made structures, entanglement in fishing gear, and hunting.
If you find more than one sick or dead bird in a small area and the cause is unknown, it may indicate a situation that should be investigated by wildlife health professionals to determine the cause and risk to humans or domestic animals, and any environmental concerns. It is therefore important to report observations of sick and dead birds promptly to wildlife officials who manage these species. Below are instructions on reporting sick or dead birds, how to dispose of dead birds if necessary, safety guidelines for subsistence hunters, and instructions on how to get involved with coastal seabird monitoring efforts.
How to Report Sick or Dead Birds
If you find more than a few sick and/or dead birds, take photos of the animals if possible and immediately report as much information as you can on date, location (GPS coordinates if possible), bird species, and number of affected birds to:
- Call US Fish and Wildlife Service bird hotline, 1-866-527-3358 (1-866-5–BRDFLU) or Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Wildlife Health Reporting and Information Line, 907-328-8354, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Locally (Rural Alaska)
The statewide toll free number above covers all of Alaska. However, also reporting seabird deaths to local responders who will work closely with wildlife agencies, especially in more remote Alaska locations, can be helpful. Reporting locally can aid in collecting samples from the animals and determining and monitoring subsistence animal food safety. Local responders can also help with reporting a die-off to the proper authorities. Below are phone numbers for local responders in some of the more remote regions in Alaska.
Bering Strait Region
- Gay Sheffield, Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Agent, Nome: 1-855-443-2397 or 907-434-1149
- Eskimo Walrus Commission: 1-877-277-4392
- Kawerak, Inc. Subsistence Program: 907-443-4265
- North Slope Borough, Department of Wildlife Management: 907-852-0350 (days) or 907-750-5486 (evenings/weekends)
- Helen Aderman, Marine Mammal Program Manager, Bristol Bay Native Association: 907-842-6240
- Lauri Jemison, Wildlife Biologist, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Division of Wildlife Conservation: 907-842-2334
- Neil Barten, Area Biologist, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Division of Wildlife Conservation: 907-842-2334
- Melissa Good, Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Agent, Unalaska: 907-581-1876 or 907-299-3296
Guidance on Handling Dead Birds
- If you need to touch a dead bird, make sure to wear rubber or latex gloves or use a plastic bag over your hand.
- Wash or throw away gloves after use.
- Wash hands with soap and water after handling dead or sick birds.
- For disposing of dead birds, follow the instructions provided by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, Division of Environmental Health.
Safety Guidelines for Subsistence Hunters
- Hunters should use their discretion and harvest only animals that act and look healthy. Never harvest animals that appear sick, and never eat animals that have died from unknown causes.
- Hunters should wear rubber or disposable gloves while field dressing, skinning, or butchering animals. Pay close attention to the overall health of the animal harvested. Do not consume game if any portion looks or smells bad.
- Do not eat, drink, or smoke while field dressing animals.
- Wash hands, knives, and any other utensils thoroughly with soap and water after field dressing animals.
- Follow this with using a 10% bleach-water solution as an effective disinfectant for cleaning surfaces and utensils. The solution should have a contact time of at least 10 minutes followed by thorough rinsing and drying.
- Cook birds thoroughly before consuming (birds should reach an internal temperature of 165°F). Making jerky or smoking meats does not expose them to high enough temperatures and therefore is not advised.
Get Involved with Seabird Monitoring:
The Coastal Observation And Seabird Survey Team (COASST) is a project started by the University of Washington in partnership with state, tribal, and federal agencies, environmental organizations, and community groups. COASST trains coastal citizens in Washington, Oregon, northern California, and Alaska to identify beached bird carcasses. The trained citizens regularly monitor beaches in their local area and provide data to COASST to be analyzed and reported back to the public.
Monitoring seabirds can be time-consuming and expensive, which severely limits the number and extent of scientific studies. The COASST program allows citizens to be part of the marine conservation process, while providing valuable scientific data that allows scientists to monitor seabird and coastal environmental health in many regions. COASST provides baseline data on seabird mortality due to both natural and human causes, which can be used to determine sources of population change currently and in the future. Learn more about COASST and how to get involved.
For More Information
- Alaska Department of Fish and Game: Wildlife Parasites and Diseases
- US Fish and Wildlife Migratory Bird Management: Avian Health and Disease Program
- US Geological Survey: National Wildlife Health Center, General Wildlife Disease Information
- US Geological Survey, National Wildlife Health Center: Field Manual of Wildlife Diseases, Avian Cholera
- US Geological Survey, National Wildlife Health Center: Avian Cholera
- Alaska Department of Health and Social Services: Influenza in Alaska
- North Slope Borough: Concerns about Bird Flu for North Slope Subsistence Hunters
- US Geological Survey: Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza
- US Geological Survey, National Wildlife Health Center: Avian Influenza