Hi, name is Marty Reedy and I work for the Migratory Bird Management division at the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) out of Anchorage, Alaska.
We are responsible for assessing the abundance and distribution of marine bird species in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. Besides documenting what birds are here now, we can compare to historic data to look at long-term trends in bird species. Are new birds moving in? Are there birds that we are used to seeing here leaving the area? Are they arriving or leaving earlier or later in the season? As of this writing, the USFWS has four survey crews on research vessels in the Arctic and sub-Arctic gathering data to help answer these questions.
We conduct our surveys using just our eyes, binoculars to help identify species, and a laptop hooked to GPS for location of every sighting. We survey from the starboard side of the bridge during daylight hours while the vessel is underway. I scan the water ahead of the ship and record all birds and mammals within a 300m strip extending 900 from the bow to the beam (called ‘strip transect methodology’). I record the animals' behavior, e.g., flying, on water, and foraging. A geometric and laser hand-held rangefinder are used to determine the distance to bird sightings. Unusual sightings beyond the 300m strip transect are also recorded for mammals, rare birds, and large bird flocks. Observations are directly entered into a GPS-interfaced laptop computer. Location data are also automatically written to the program in 20-second intervals which allows us to simultaneously record changing weather conditions, sea state, ice coverage (if any), and glare conditions.
Arctic seabirds have not been studied very much while they’re at sea. Until now, there has been little scientific effort in this ecosystem compared to seas in more southerly climates. That is changing as the ice retreats and we can spend more time looking for seabirds while they are at sea – which is roughly nine months out of the year.
What is especially exciting is that we work alongside other scientific disciplines, which will allow us to see how the composition of the ocean chemistry and biota affect seabirds. The value of this type of collaboration cannot be overstated.
Within the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort Sea regions there are very distinct differences in seabird composition. Below are two tables demonstrating what we’ve seen from the R/V Ocean Starr from August 1-September 7, 2017.
These maps show distributions of four common bird groups observed during August 1-24. The crested auklet is the most abundant auklet species, and comes into the Chukchi Sea in late summer from Bering Sea breeding colonies to feed after their breeding season. Murres include the common murre and thick-billed murre. The northern fulmar is abundant throughout Alaska. Nearly all shearwaters in the Bering and Chukchi Seas are short-tailed shearwaters, which breed in the southern hemisphere.
Finally, I should say that I’ve had a great time on the R/V Ocean Starr for the last five weeks (I get off the ship soon). The food has been incredible, the desserts beyond belief, the crew and captain accommodating in all ways - the ship seaworthy, comfortable, and clean. The scientists on board have been helpful, insightful, and inspirational – I could not have hoped to have sailed with a better class of seafaring men and women.