Large numbers of penguins and other seabirds are dying of starvation on New Zealand beaches because of a La Nina climate pattern affecting the nation this year, the government said.
Dead birds have started washing up on the nation’s North Island after calmer seas made it harder for them to find food, Department of Conservation vet Kate McInnes said in a statement. There could be thousands of deaths over the summer due to the weather event, the statement said.
The bird deaths are the latest natural shocks in New Zealand to be blamed on environmental factors. Scientists said that a bacterial disease that started spreading through kiwifruit orchards in November was likely awakened by weather conditions. Earlier this month, the government said that Pacific oysters in the North Island were being killed by a herpes virus triggered by warmer sea temperatures.
“All seabirds are struggling to feed their chicks or get into breeding condition as a result of the La Nina climate pattern,” McInnes said. “Calm seas stop the mixing of water columns making it harder for seabirds to find food.”
La Nina climate patterns occur on average every three to five years and can last up to 12 months, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This event, characterized by stationary anticyclones east of New Zealand, is the biggest of its type since 1975, McInnes said.
Petrels, shearwaters and gannets will also be affected and people are advised to “let nature take its course,” McInnes said.