Population trends of Alaskan seabirds

Pacific Seabird Group Bulletin



Ornithology in Alaska formally began with the observations of Georg Wilhelm Steller during Vitus Bering's voyage of discovery in 1741. Steller's journal makes brief mention of various seabird species he encountered during his travels in the Gulf of Alaska and Aleutian Islands (Frost and Engel 1988). For more than 100 years following Steller, the Russian-American Company was active in commercial fur harvesting throughout southern coastal Alaska, but this period saw little contribution to a scientific understanding of the region's avifauna. With the purchase of Alaska by the United States in 1867, a period of American exploration began that included significant work by pioneering naturalists such as Dall (1873, 1874), Elliot (1881), Nelson (1883), and Turner (1885, 1886). While this activity established a comprehensive list and general knowledge of the distribution of seabird species occurring in Alaska, early observers provided no quantitative estimates of abundance for any colony or region.

The observations of Heath (1915) and Willett (1912, 1915, 1917) at two locations in southeastern Alaska are notable for including the first numerical estimates of any seabird populations for comparison with recent data. Willett's (1912, 1915) estimates of 13 species are given in Table 1 with results from a 1976 Survey at Forrester Island (DeGange et al. 1977) and a 1981 survey at St. Lazaria Island (Nelson et al 1982). In the aggregate, seabird numbers appeared to increase dramatically at both sites, but the differences may be largely artificial. Because Willett (1915) did not employ rigorous sampling methods, DeGange et al. (1977) surmised that he grossly underestimated the populations of burrowing species such as storm-petrels, Cassin's Auklets. and Rhinoceros Aulkets. Nelson et al. (1982) offered a similar interpretation of total storm-petrel numbers at St. Lazaria, but felt that a shift in the species ratio of Leach's and Fork-tailed Storm-Petrels had likely occurred. It seems reasonably certain that real changes in some of the open-nesters like Common Murres (down at Forrester Island, up at St. Lazaria) and Glaucous-winged and Herring Gulls (absent or down at both sites) have occurred since Willet's time.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Population trends of Alaskan seabirds
Series title Pacific Seabird Group Bulletin
Volume 20
Issue 1
Year Published 1993
Language English
Publisher Pacific Seabird Group
Contributing office(s) Alaska Science Center
Description 10 p.
First page 3
Last page 12
Country United States
State Alaska
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