St Lawrence Island is located in the Northern Bering Sea and is home to 2 million seabirds. The aim of our fieldwork was to establish a marine meso-predator research program in this under-studied region and collect key information on the physiology and foraging ecology of breeding seabirds.
We flew into and stayed in the village of Savoonga, on the northern coast of the island, from 21st July to 27th August. Everyday, we drove our ATVs over the rugged tundra landscape to work on several colonies of seabirds. Our international research team consisted of two scientists from NIPR, two scientists from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and two native guides from St. Lawrence Island. The native Yupik Eskimo community of St. Lawrence Island relies largely on subsistence hunting of birds and mammals for their livelihood and many community members are experts in the local and traditional knowledge of the distribution and biology of seabirds breeding on the island. In addition to active participation in our research, our native guides provided us with essential information on how Yupik Eskimo use a variety of migratory and resident birds and mammals as food and cultural resources throughout the year. Their unique insights into the biology of seabirds have greatly enhanced our research program. We also began work with the village school, sharing our research with students and initiating partnerships with teachers in an effort to include students as active participants in this scientific research.
After carefully selecting the research sites, we started to capture 5 species of breeding seabirds (thick-billed and common murres, black-legged kittiwakes, crested auklets, and least auklets). We measured them, obtained blood, feather and diet samples for physiological and contaminant analyses, and attached bird-borne data loggers for behavioral analyses. We have obtained samples from more than 200 birds in total. Due to a relatively poor breeding performance of our study species, the retrieval rates of data loggers was lower than expected. Nevertheless, we managed to obtain GPS tracks of parent birds while they were foraging at sea. Geolocators will stay on the birds’ legs throughout the year, and will be retrieved in the 2017 summer field season to inform us on birds’ migratory routes during the winter. We look forward to analyzing obtained samples and behavioral data in the coming months back at our laboratories.
Akinori Takahashi (NIPR / A member of Theme 6)