As he walked on a beach in the western Prince William Sound town of Whittier, seabird biologist David Irons was startled when he saw hundreds of white lumps on the black rock beach.

They were dead seabirds, in what he would discover were likely record numbers, a sign the ecosystem was being troubled by abnormally warm ocean water.

The birds, all of a species known as the common murre, appear to have starved to death, federal wildlife officials say.

The dead birds, common murres that had starved, were lined up and left where the tide had dropped them on the shore.

“We have never found close to 8,000 birds on a 1-mile long beach before,” Irons said of his early January discovery. “It is an order of magnitude larger than any records that I am aware of.”

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