Kittiwake's Wrecked in North-East England
Bird On! News
5th August 1996
The pretty little cliff nesting gull - the Kittiwake - is a familiar seabird in many Northern hemisphere waters. In the Atlantic there is only the black-legged species. They have often given cause for concern in the past as they are surface feeders and seem to be very sensitive to changes in their food supply.
When there was the scare about sand-eel populations and over-fishing off Shetland (Scotland) these birds were severely affected. In some years the adults did not breed, in others the fish they brought back to the chicks were in very short supply and most failed to rear young. In some years the failure came after the young had left the cliffs and many were found starved to death.
In the last few days there has been a mysterious wreck of adult birds on the Northumbrian coast. The chicks on the ledges are not apparently affected but adult Kittiwakes are being washed ashore dead in their hundreds. The birds superficially seem to be in good condition but post mortem examinations have shown that they have internal bleeding. There are very real worries that this may have been caused by an environmental contamination of some sort and there is frantic research going on to try to find out what has happened. It is just possibly due to toxins from a plankton bloom (dinoflagellate poisoning or a red tide) but this should be quite easy to diagnose.