Climate change forces seabirds to resort to cannibalism

©James Sawusch

Over the last decade, scientists have noticed that gulls on Protection Island in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, a channel to the Pacific Ocean between Canada and the U.S., are eating other seabirds’ chicks and eggs. Biologists studying glaucous-winged gulls (Larus glaucescens) on the island recently discovered that this trend seems to be related to climate change. With ocean temperatures rising, plankton drops deeper into colder water and subsequently fish that feed on the plankton also drop lower, according to the scientists. This means gulls that feed on fish on the surface of the water don’t have enough to eat. The researchers say cannibalism is not a good long-term strategy for the birds since it can’t get the birds through a bad year and, further, water temperatures will likely get higher in the future which could spell more trouble for the seabirds. Read more about this phenomenon in SFGate.