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Algae and Seabirds

Pete Springer/OPB

Thousands of seabirds are washing ashore off the coast of Oregon and Washington, stripped of their natural protection from water and cold air. The birds are feeling the effects of a large bloom of red algae, known as Akashiwo sanguinea. A similar phenomenon occurred off the California coast in 2007 and some of the birds are being sent to California to be treated.

The birds need to be rinsed and dried in order to help them build back their natural waterproofing. Most of them also need to be fed large quantities of fish because their condition has made it impossible for them to hunt. A number of private organizations along with federal and state agencies have stepped up to help treat and transport the birds. The response is similar to the aftermath of an oil spill, but unlike that kind of manmade disaster, there is no one to blame and, therefore, no company to pick up the tab. The effort depends on a lot of volunteer hours and organizations willing to adjust their budgets and step up fundraising once the crisis is over.

Do you live on the coast? Have you seen birds and algae foam washing up onshore? What is the best response to something like this? How much effort should private, state or federal agencies put into saving seabirds? What can we learn from this algae bloom and its affect on seabirds?


  • Tom Banse, Regional correspondent for OPB News
  • Raphael Kudela, Professor of the Ocean Sciences Department at University of California Santa Cruz
  • Jay Holcomb, Director of the International Bird Rescue Research Center


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