Two unprecedented auk wrecks in the northwest Atlantic in winter 2012/13

Antony W. Diamond, Douglas B. McNair, Julie C. Ellis, Jean François Rail, Erin S. Whidden, Andrew W. Kratter, Sarah J. Courchesne, Mark A. Pokras, Sabina I. Wilhelm, Stephen W. Kress, Andrew Farnsworth, Marshall J. Iliff, Samuel H. Jennings, Justin D. Brown, Jennifer R. Ballard, Sara H. Schweitzer, Joseph C. Okoniewski, John B. Gallegos, John D. Stanton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


An unprecedented irruption of thousands of Razorbills Alca torda into Florida in winter 2012/13 was followed by a “wreck” of Razorbills and Atlantic Puffins Fratercula arctica in outer Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in January–March 2013. We describe these events using citizen-science sources (eBird and beached-bird surveys) and band recoveries, then we discuss them in relation to extreme weather and oceanographic change. We explored effects on likely source populations using census and monitoring data, along with possible contributions from population increases, reduced food supply, and extreme weather. Winter 2012/13 followed a marine heatwave throughout the northwest Atlantic, whose effects included reduced availability of plankton. We attribute the irruption of Razorbills into Florida partly to delayed effects of Hurricane Sandy, which disrupted their coastal habitat sufficiently to cause starving birds to move south on the Labrador Current as far as Florida. Despite the continuation of anomalously warm ocean temperatures in subsequent years and a reduction in plankton communities in the Bay of Fundy and Gulf of Maine that continues to date, no comparable events have been recorded in subsequent winters; this supports our theory that the delayed effects of Hurricane Sandy contributed to these wrecks. We highlight the power of these datasets to detect and to investigate birds’ responses to extreme and anomalous conditions, which in turn provides insight into the dynamics of rapidly changing ecological systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)185-204
Number of pages20
JournalMarine Ornithology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Oceanography
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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