There are many causes of seabird mortality, including oil spills, habitat loss, entanglement in fishing gear (bycatch), predation, and climate change. Oil pollution poses a great threat to pelagic seabirds and coastal waterbirds, because just a small amount of oil can degrade the insulating and waterproofing properties of feathers.
Information collected by BC Beached Bird Survey volunteers helps scientists determine which seabird species are most affected by oiling, what time of year the problem is most severe, and whether the proportion of oiled birds washing up on beaches is changing over time. The information is also used to identify which species are vulnerable to other events, such as low food supply or bycatch, and to understand local patterns in seabird mortality.
Volunteer Beached Bird Surveys, coordinated by Alan Burger out of the University of Victoria from 1986 to 1997, provided the first baseline data for the BC coast. After a five-year hiatus, Bird Studies Canada re-initiated the BC Beached Bird program in late 2002.
Since 2009, Bird Studies Canada has also coordinated the Québec Beached Bird Survey. In the U.S., COASST (Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team) coordinates surveys in Washington, Oregon, California, and Alaska.