A regional colony of Glaucous-winged gulls had 4,000 fledglings last year. Although the same number of adults was present this year, only 88 birds fledged. Top bird experts in the region are gravely concerned, not only about gulls, which are often considered a nuisance species, but about the status of other marine birds in the Puget Sound region. Overall, the total number of marine birds in the region has dropped by 47% since the 1970s and 30% of our regional seabird and seaduck species are listed as threatened or endangered, or are candidates for listing.
What's going on?
September 29, 2005, the SeaDoc Society, a wildlife health program of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, convened a group of leading scientists who study and manage the region's marine bird populations. Specialists from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and numerous academic institutions and non-profit organizations had no trouble listing over 20 species that were likely declining and required more attention to better understand why they were disappearing and what could be done to bring about their recovery.
Joe Galusha, a professor of biology at Walla Walla College, has spent the last 25 years studying glaucous winged gulls at Protection Island and was startled by the massive reproductive failure he found this year.
"This is a dramatic single-year event, but also there are data showing dramatic long-term declines in numerous species including Western grebes, surf scoters and rhinoceros auklets," noted Joe Gaydos, SeaDoc Society Regional Director and wildlife veterinarian. "These birds are not as flashy as killer whales, but they do reproduce slowly and feed high in the food chain and they tell us a lot about what is happening in our marine waters."
The reasons for declines in so many seabird and seaduck species were discussed at this one day meeting and included the availability of prey resources like forage fish, the disturbance of birds by boats, the impact of toxins, and the degradation of important breeding and over-wintering habitat. The SeaDoc Society is making seabird and seaduck health one focus of the program's research and education work.
Meeting notes are posted (as a PDF file) at www.seadocsociety.org on the Sponsored Science Events page. (Scroll down to "Recent Events.")
Anne Stoltz, Director of Development and Communications, SeaDoc Society
(206) 281-9987, email@example.com