US Northwest Coast harmful algal bloom

Animals affected
More than 600 affected birds were taken into care, with estimates of 1,200 scoters and several hundred other seabirds found dead during the two incidents.
Species affected: 
surf scoter, common guillemot/murre, divers/loons, grebes

In September and October of 2009 Washington and Oregon experienced two HABs involving the dinoflagellate A.sanguinea, during unusually warm weather. During the first incident thousands of scoters died. A response was mounted during the second oincident when more than 600 birds were brought into care.

During the event, staff from Focus Wildlife developed a spray system using pvc pipe with small holes drilled into it that created more surf-like conditions on the pools. The birds, particularly the common guillemots, spent more time in this ‘surf zone’ diving for food and preening. As a result they regained waterproofing and body condition in a shorter time and were able to be released sooner.


Some types of harmful algal blooms (HABs) can cause bird feathers to lose waterproofing. Under rough sea conditions, Akashiwo sanguinea, a dinoflagellate, becomes a foamy, soap-like mass on the water surface, which sticks to bird feathers, resulting in a loss of waterproofing.

Amount and type of oiled spilled: 
HAB of A.sanguinea
Wildlife Response: 

The US Fish and Wildlife Service, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife initiated the response as more than 600 birds were initially brought to the Wildlife Center of the North Coast in Astoria, Oregon. When capacity was reached there, birds were sent to PAWS Wildlife Center in Washington and to International Bird Rescue’s northern California facility. Focus Wildlife assisted the PAWS team with cleaning and rehabilitation.

Publications and links: 


Focus Wildife Response Team Newsletter 2010-04.pdf

Summary of birds killed by harmful algal bloom along south Oregon and north Washington coasts in 2009. Northwest Naturalist Autumn 2011. 92:1200-126.