The mass of dead seabirds that have washed up on Alaska beaches in past months is unprecedented in size, scope and duration, a federal biologist said at an Anchorage science conference. The staggering die-off of common murres, the iconic Pacific seabirds sometimes likened to flying penguins, is a signal that something is awry in the Gulf of Alaska, said Heather Renner, supervisory wildlife biologist at the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. “We are in the midst of perhaps the largest murre die-off ever recorded,” Renner told the Alaska Marine Science Symposium on Thursday.

While there have been big die-offs of murres and other seabirds in the past, recorded since the 1800s, this one dwarfs all of them, Renner said. “This event is almost certainly larger than the murres killed in the Exxon Valdez oil spill,” she said. After that spill — at the time, the nation’s largest — about 22,000 dead murres were recovered by crews conducting extensive beach searches in the four months after the tanker grounding, according to the Exxon Valdez Trustee Council, the federal-state panel that administers funds paid to settle spill-related claims for natural-resource damages. FULL REPORT