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SELAWIK:Climbing Cliffs in the Name of Science
Alaska Region, July 27, 2012
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The pointed end of a murre egg makes the egg roll in a circle when pushed, which helps keep it from falling off its nesting ledge.
The pointed end of a murre egg makes the egg roll in a circle when pushed, which helps keep it from falling off its nesting ledge. - Photo Credit: Brandon Saito
The rocky cliffs of Puffin Island in southern Kotzebue Sound provide perfect nesting habitat for common murres.
The rocky cliffs of Puffin Island in southern Kotzebue Sound provide perfect nesting habitat for common murres. - Photo Credit: Brandon Saito

Seabirds flock to western Alaska’s coastal headlands and cliffs by the millions in summer to lay eggs and raise their young. Scientists interested in circumpolar environmental monitoring have selected two species of these seabirds—common and thick-billed murres—for long-term tracking for contaminants. Murres are diving birds that feed at the top of the marine food web, with the common murre feeding in the mid-water column and the thick-billed murre from the ocean bottom. Eggs from these birds are good sources of tissue to analyze for contaminants. This monitoring program started in 1999 and is expected to continue for 100 years.

 

In northwest Alaska, murre eggs are also a desirable mid-summer food savored by local residents. To obtain eggs for analysis, one of our refuge biologists recently accompanied subsistence gatherers on a 3-hour boat ride to Puffin Island in southern Kotzebue Sound, one of the major seabird colonies in the area and a far-flung part of the Alaska Maritime Refuge. Kittiwakes, murres, and puffins crowded the scenic island. Local residents deftly climbed the cliffs among the birds, collecting bucketfuls of eggs along the way. Ten of the eggs were gathered according to a standard protocol, their contents destined for a long-term holding bank at a South Carolina marine lab where they will be analyzed and then stored for future research.

The refuge was happy to contribute to this program to systematically document contaminants in seabirds. And our biologist was happy to spend a beautiful summer day exploring the seldom-visited island with local residents!


Contact Info: Susan Georgette, 907-442-3799 ext 16, susan_georgette@fws.gov



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