Research on increased seabird mortality

In recent weeks, thousands of sick, dead and dying common guillemots have washed up on the Wadden Islands and the Dutch mainland coastline. Birds that strand alive are transported to animal rehabilitation centres while dead birds are being collected in order to determine their cause of death.

While peaks in guillemot strandings are relatively common after periods of prolonged severe weather, the current numbers have not been seen in years. High mortality rates were first seen on the Wadden Islands in January, but has since spread to the rest of the Dutch coastline. Neighbouring countries do not appear to have a higher mortality rates among seabirds, suggesting that the problem is specific to the Netherlands. The current mortality rate may be influenced by local factors other than extreme weather at sea alone. It is therefore important to determine the underlying causes of this mass mortality event.

Common guillemots on the examining table at Utrecht University’s Department of Veterinary Pathology (Faculty of Veterinary Medicine). Photo: Dutch Wildlife Health Centre.

Several research institutes are now joining forces to do just that, including Wageningen Marine Research, Wageningen Bioveterinary Research and Utrecht University's Dutch Wildlife Health Centre. With the help of countless volunteers, these institutes have managed to collect an even larger number of dead guillemots for research purposes. The research institutes will conduct a large-scale examination of at least 100 dead guillemots, commissioned by the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality. The first results are expected in early March. A small number of birds has already been examined, all of which were emaciated and had severe gastrointestinal problems.