Report – Winter strong storms: mass strandings in France

Winter of 2013/2014 saw massive bird deaths on French coasts from strong storms. LPO, with the support from the MPA French Agency, together with other NGOs and volunteers gathered field data during 6 weeks to understand this phenomenon. For now we can only assume that a lack of food increased by repeated storms during the moulting period (period of greatest vulnerability) would have caused the mass stranding.

Dissections conducted in the LIENSs laboratory (University of La Rochelle) © P-A FARQUE/LPO
Dissections conducted in the LIENSs laboratory (University of La Rochelle) © P-A FARQUE/LPO

Data analysis showed that the Atlantic Puffin was the main bird that was found stranded (more than 28, 745 individuals, making up 66% of the total birds found), followed by the Common Guilemot (more than 11,800 individuals, making up 27% of the total birds found). The most dangerous period for these birds was between mid-February and early March. The analyses of beaks photos also confirm that more than two thirds of the Atlantic Puffins were adults.

In addition, in late February, oill was found on many beaches and some of the stranded birds were oiled. More than 11% of stranded birds (4,977 individuals counted) had traces of oil on the body (plumage, beak, legs, etc.); either partially or fully. The origin of the pollution’s is being researched by Cedre (Centre of Documentation, Research and Experimentation on Accidental Water Pollution).

Analysis are also still ongoing at the LIENSs (University of La Rochelle) and from other scientists who will continue to study the stomach contents, the moulting stage, age, sex, parasitology of corpses harvested and many other parameters. These post stranding studies will provide a real certainty about the birds’ causes of death.

Amélie Boué, LPO’s Marine Programme Coordinator

Pauline Loubat, LPO’s Marine Programme Assistant

For more information:

Acknowledgements to Mike Harris for data on beaks

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