Friday, December 26, 2014

Why is the Beach Covered with Dead Birds?

On the Winter Solstice I went to the Oregon Coast, only to find it covered with hundreds of dead birds. Their fresh corpses lay scattered along that morning’s hightide mark on Gearhart Beach.

I was alarmed.

The birds’ feathers were barely ruffled, like dead birds in a still-life painting. Scavengers avoided them. Except one seagull who took a single peck, then left to wash out his beak in the sea, shaking his head No! No! No!

What killed this huge flock of birds all at once? Was it mass starvation? Not enough food in the changing ocean currents of melting ice caps? Too weak to continue flying in the extreme winds of changed global climate? Like feathered rain they dropped into the sea, which regurgitated them onto the sand.

I was alarmed.

So, I consulted the oracle of news, Google, expecting to find an article addressing this alarming event. But I found none. Instead I found “Dead birds on beaches no cause for alarm.” It was the headline of a 1992 print article Google had chosen to scan and digitize online, with the added commentary, “No related articles.” But what about December 21, 2014, 22 years after that alarming article?

I searched some more and learned that for the past couple of decades, or more, volunteers have been walking beaches, and compiling mountains of reports of dead birds. Some of these groups are: Bay Keeper in San Francisco, Coast Watch in Oregon, and Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team (COASST) in Washington state.

How connected are these groups? It seems pretty scattered. COASST has a blog where it mentions being connected to none of the above, but only to Beach Watch in San Francisco (not to be confused with the afore mentioned Bay Keeper), BeachCOMBERS in Monterey, California, and the British Columbia Beached Bird Survey. And what about the December 24th News Lincoln County article about the bird corpse apocalypse? It calls for citizens to carry cameras and take pictures of the dead birds washed ashore from the global-climate-changed acidic seas, and email the photos to biologist Douglas Cottam of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. I wouldn’t know what to do if I received hundreds and thousands of photos of dead birds in my email inbox. Poor Mr. Cottam.

It sounds like a lot of us are worried and trying to do something, and our efforts are scattered.

Meanwhile, big business and their politician puppets keep on delaying coming to any meaningful agreement to cut greenhouse-causing emissions, as seen in the recent Lima Climate Summit. And all of us alarmed at the bird corpses washing in with each high tide, which are ignored by the media. So many different groups and people trying to do good, yet scattered. Not yet united.

Divide and conquer is a time-tested method of social control. The reports are divided and not looked at as a whole. While dead common murres and cassin’s auklets wash up repeatedly on the North Coast of Oregon, in San Francisco the self-described “novice birder” who heads the environmental organization Bay Keeper claimed in a 2011 article that common murre nesting populations are “On the Comeback Trail” on the tiny rocky Farallon islands outside of the Golden Gate (where over 47,000 metal barrels of nuclear waste rust where they were dumped on the sea bottom 300 feet below in the 1950s-1970s). Yuck. Would you want to raise your babies in a place like that?

Then there’s the tactic of turning a blind eye to the true culprits — multi-national corporations. COASST, despite all its good work, hides neoliberal military-industrial complex culpability by not including effects of global warming as a “human” factor in its cataloging the massive deaths of birds. It turns a blind eye to actions by the military industrial complex, unless it is something visible that obviously killed a bird, such as an oil spill or physical objects. Lack of food and extreme weather because of ocean currents shifted with the melting of the ice caps because of human actions and policies are ignored as causes of the massive die-offs. Those die-offs are labeled “natural.”

So, it seems that earnest volunteers braving all kinds of weather to walk the beaches counting bird corpses on the West Coast of the United States are having their findings stymied by being divided geographically, organizationally, and/or categorically. The truth is being hidden through divide and conquer. I wrote to COASST, suggesting they coordinate with more groups, such as the ones mentioned above. Their response did not arrive in time to quote in this article.

As far as I can tell, there is no one looking at the big picture.

According to Google, rarely does this ongoing massacre of birds get reported in the media.

One exception was in 2012 when the Press flocked to the Japanese dock that washed up on an Oregon beach after it broke off in the “new normal” extreme weather of a tsunami, which also triggered a nuclear meltdown in Fukushima. Those reporters and camera operators couldn’t ignore the hundreds of dead birds all around them. One article mentioned the Japanese dock and bird corpses and blamed pelicans. It was not looked at in context of continuing shorebird die-offs.

Die-offs of meres and auklets have become so commonplace that COASST seabird program coordinator Dolliver described it as sporting event:
“Both species have different life histories but are constantly in competition for the top dead bird of each year. They drive a lot of baseline patterns we see every year because they are the top players . . . “

I am alarmed.

Auklets eat krill in the sea. Krill that are often no longer there from changing ocean temperatures and increased acidity. The birds are divers and swimmers, not strong flyers, and get swept to their deaths by bigger and stronger storms. Meanwhile corporations profit from disaster “relief.” Profit is the legally mandated mission for corporations. Empathizing with our sister and brother creatures here on Gaia and preventing disasters before they occur is not included in an accountant’s “bottom line.”

Since the news didn’t mention the hundreds of dead birds I saw, I emailed Phillip Johnson, president of Oregon Shores Coast Watch. He forwarded my question to the group and volunteers responded that they had counted hundreds of dead Cassin’s Auklets last Sunday, the same day I visited the beach. It was just the latest in a long series of corporate mass murders. Here I quote directly from our email conversation:

“I put out the word to our Clatsop County mile adopters, and sure enough, I heard from a number of them that they had seen large numbers of beached birds after the last storm.  I was right–most of them are Casssin’s auklets.  One response noted 30 dead birds in the space of a quarter-mile, and noted:
Cassin’s Auklets – They have been washing up dead on the beaches for several months but in larger numbers after the most recent storm.  Bad year for the seabirds – no food in the ocean.
 Another read:
There are hundreds of dead birds on the northern beaches.  They’re auklets.
And a third, from a CoastWatcher who is also a volunteer at the Wildlife Center of the North Coast and participates in CoastWatch’s beached bird survey:
The majority of the dead birds are auklets; especially the little cassin’s auklet. There are also dead common murres.
So, what I speculated yesterday is pretty much right–the ‘wreck’ of Cassin’s auklets continues . . . “

None of this was mentioned in the mainstream news. Big business owns the major media outlets. What else are “they” not telling us?

The day I visited the Coast and mourned at the sandy tombs of these gentle beings was the Winter Solstice. Longest night of the year. The return of the sun. Of the light.

When will our long night of global corporate greed and killing finally fade away into the light?

I am alarmed, yet I have hope.

First published as "Why is the Beach Covered with Dead Birds?" on blogcritics

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