Seabirds in Alaska

By:  and 
Edited by: Edward T. LaRoeGaye S. FarrisCatherine E. PuckettPeter D. Doran, and Michael J. Mac

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Abstract

About 100 million seabirds reside in marine waters of Alaska during some part of the year. Perhaps half this population is composed of 50 species of nonbreeding residents, visitors, and breeding species that use marine habitats only seasonally (Gould et al. 1982). Another 30 species include 40-60 million individuals that breed in Alaska and spend most of their lives in U.S. territorial waters (Sowls et al. 1978). Alaskan populations account for more than 95% of the breeding seabirds in the continental United States, and eight species nest nowhere else in North America (USFWS 1992).

Seabird nest sites include rock ledges, open ground, underground burrows, and crevices in cliffs or talus. Seabirds take a variety of prey from the ocean, including krill, small fish, and squid. Suitable nest sites and oceanic prey are the most important factors controlling the natural distribution and abundance of seabirds.

The impetus for seabird monitoring is based partly on public concern for the welfare of these birds, which are affected by a variety of human activities like oil pollution and commercial fishing. Equally important is the role seabirds serve as indicators of ecological change in the marine environment. Seabirds are long-lived and slow to mature, so parameters such as breeding success, diet, or survival rates often give earlier signals of changing environmental conditions that population size itself. Seabird survival data are of interest because they reflect conditions affecting seabirds in the nonbreeding season, when most annual mortality occurs.

Techniques for monitoring seabird populations vary according to habitat types and the breeding behavior of individual species (Hatch and Hatch 1978, 1989; Byrd et al. 1983). An affordable monitoring program can include but a few of the 1,300 seabird colonies identified in Alaska, and since the mid-1970's, monitoring effotrts have emphasized a small selection of surface-feeding and diving species, primarily kittiwakes (Rissa spp.) and murres (Uria spp.). Little or no information on trends is available for other seabirds (Hatch 1993a). The existing monitoring program occurs largely on sites within the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, which was established primarily for the conservation of marine birds. Data are collected by refuge staff, other state and federal agencies, private organizations, university faculty, and students.

Additional publication details

Publication type Book chapter
Publication Subtype Book Chapter
Title Seabirds in Alaska
Year Published 1995
Language English
Publisher National Biological Service
Publisher location Washington, D.C.
Description 4 p.
Larger Work Type Book
Larger Work Subtype Monograph
Larger Work Title Our living resources: A report to the nation on the distribution, abundance, and health of U.S. plants, animals, and ecosystems
First page 49
Last page 52
Country United States
State Alaska
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N