Rare Arctic Bird Found in Florida

Razor-billed auks, found only in the sub-arctic, are popping up in sunny Florida.
Razor-billed auks, found only in the sub-arctic, are popping up in sunny Florida.

Troy Westover says he'll never forget what he saw in the water while surfing with his sons off Vero Beach.

"This little thing high in the water looked like a Nerf football, black and white. I said 'Oh my God that's gotta be a toy.'," he recalled.

When he got closer, he saw it was in fact a bird that looked just like a penguin darting through the water.

Troy and his son say they tried to follow it, but it was too fast.

Then, two weeks later, the Westovers found another bird, just like it, dead, and washed up on the shore.

"I mean it's really disturbing to see a bird you would expect to see sitting up on an iceberg or somewhere close to an iceberg up in the Arctic," Troy said.

The Westovers brought the bird to Dr. Greg Bossart at the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution in Ft. Pierce.

"It kind of intrigued me because lately we've been seeing some strange animals turn up in Florida that don't belong here," says Bossart.

He says the bird is a razor-billed auk, a sub-arctic bird, that's a close relative of the puffin.

He calls it the northern hemisphere version of a penguin.

"We do know it was markedly underweight and likely died of starvation," Bossart said.

This is just the latest arctic creature to wash up on a Florida beach.

In the past couple of years, Bossart has treated a bearded seal, two hooded seals, and several mellon-headed whales which were discovered on local beaches.

His theory?

They're all signs of global climate change.

"Elevated water temperatures, shifts in food supply, possibly shifts in currents.
These are some of the things you'd have to consider as to why you've got multiple arctic or sub-arctic species showing up in a tropical climate," said Bossart.

He says the bird was too decomposed to provide much valuable information about its death.

He plans to send it to a state laboratory at the University of Florida.