EL Nino's Deadly Legacy

What's killing our wildlife? It may be part of Mother Nature's scheme, or it may be an extraordinary phenomenon. The bottom line is not yet clear. CBS News Correspondent Jerry Bowen reports.

Call it the El Nino hangover: the food web that has disappeared from the Pacific, leaving seabirds like the rhino auklet in trouble.

Researchers are doing a wildlife census off the California coast, and the numbers are not good. Says bird researcher William Sydeman: "What we have seen is about an 80 percent reduction in their ability to raise chicks this year."
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It was an all too familiar story during the El Nino season: sea lions and brown pelicans on California's Channel Islands perished in high numbers as warm waters drove away their food supply. Bird monitor Paige Martin says it wasn't a pleasant sight: "I enjoy watching the birds, so it's difficult for me to watch them just die."

Anywhere you looked, it seemed, creatures were in peril. Sea turtle birth rates were one-tenth of normal along Central America's coasts. Marine iguanas in the Galapagos islands couldn't find enough algae to eat.

The numbers are part of a National Wildlife Federation report released this week that suggests that the severity and frequency of El Ninos may be connected to global warming. If true, man and beast may be in for increasingly tough times.

But the scientific verdict is still out on that. Sydeman says a poor year may be countered by a good one. And that's part of nature's cycle, too.

Now, we have La Nina with which to contend, for better or worse.

In the Galapagos, La Nina brought colder waters back to the region, so now those marine iguanas are again swimming in algae.

But to the north off the west coast of the United States, life is not yet back to normal, and El Nino is still one bad hangover.

By Jerry Bowen
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