We estimated areas used by king eiders (Somateria spectabilis) in the Alaskan Beaufort Sea, how distributions of used areas varied, and characteristics that explained variation in the number of days spent at sea, to provide regulatory agencies with baseline data needed to minimize impacts of potential offshore oil development. We implanted sixty king eiders with satellite transmitters at nesting areas on the North Slope of Alaska, USA, in 2002-2004. More than 80% of marked eiders spent >2 weeks staging offshore prior to beginning a postbreeding molt migration. During postbreeding staging and migration, male king eiders had much broader distributions in the Alaskan Beaufort Sea than female eiders, which were concentrated in Harrison and Smith Bays. Distribution did not vary by sex during spring migration in the year after marking. Shorter residence times of eiders and deeper water at locations used during spring migration suggest the Alaskan Beaufort Sea might not be as critical a staging area for king eiders during prebreeding as it is postbreeding. Residence time in the Beaufort Sea varied by sex, with female king eiders spending more days at sea than males in spring and during postbreeding. We conclude the Alaskan Beaufort Sea is an important staging area for king eiders during postbreeding, and eider distribution should be considered by managers when mitigating for future offshore development. We recommend future studies examine the importance of spring staging areas outside the Alaskan Beaufort Sea.
Additional publication details
Use of the Beaufort Sea by king eiders breeding on the North Slope of Alaska