harmful algal blooms

Massive bird die-offs on NW coast tied to mysterious algae spawning toxic sea foam

A massive, weird and sickening environmental story is breaking along the coast of the Pacific Northwest: A toxic form of algae previously detected only rarely in those waters is killing thousands of sea birds.
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The single-celled algae called Akashiwo sanguinea is causing what sounds for all the world like a red tide, producing large swaths of chocolate- and rusty-colored waters. According to a story by Lynne Terry in The Oregonian, such deadly blooms have been detected off California and elsewhere worldwide in the past, but the algae has previously been picked up only in small and isolated areas of the Pacific Northwest. A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service press release says the algae began showing up in September in Washington.
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The birds most affected are sea ducks -- white-winged scoters and surf scoters. Surf scoters' numbers have been trending down for some time now, worrying scientists and citizens such as those who walk Pacific Northwest beaches looking for dead birds. That network of beachwalkers is run by  University of Washington bird scientist Julia Parrish, who estimates that algae outbreak this fall has reduced scoters' West coast population by 5 percent to 7 percent:
That is a pretty significant bite into those species. I don't think it will knock the population back for years. But at least with surf scoters -- a species that's in decline   -- conservation scientists are rather concerned about it.
An earlier story by Terry and the press release outline the gruesome mechanism by which the algae kills the birds: When the single-celled algae are broken down by wave action, they create a toxic sea foam.