Ivory Gulls Suffer From Sea Loss Due to Global Warming

Posted Mar. 17th, 2015 by Melynda Harrison

Ivory gulls suffer from sea loss due to global warming. While gulls aren’t quite the iconic poster-animals of climate change as polar bears, they are one of many arctic species feeling the heat from global warming.

An Ivory Gull comes in on the wind in Svalbard, Norway

An Ivory Gull comes in on the wind in Svalbard, Norway

Like polar bears, ivory gulls (Pagophila eburnea) count sea ice as their habitat, and live in polar regions year round. During the winter they live near polynyas, large areas of open water surrounded by sea ice.

Warming air temperatures and thinning sea ice mean that annual ice is replacing marine habitats that traditionally are covered in multi-year ice

According to study authors writing in the journal PLoS One, the gulls are most often found over pack ice of 70 to 90 percent concentration; they are almost never observed more than five kilometers from sea ice.

An Ivory Gull perched on the floating remains of a dead whale it was feeding on. Svalbard, Norway

An Ivory Gull perched on the floating remains of a dead whale it was feeding on. Svalbard, Norway

To assess the annual habitat needs of the gull, scientists attached satellite transmitters to 12 birds on Seymour Island, Nunavet in 2010. They tracked the birds’ movements for four breeding seasons.

The researchers found “gulls appear to rely on sea ice formation and recession heavily, and the Davis Strait and Labrador Sea areas may be important even for international, non-Canadian populations of these birds. This isn’t just a matter of how much ice is available—it’s the timing of the ice that also matters, the dates and lengths of time that sea ice recedes, reforms, and recedes again,” according to a story in Conservation.

In Canada, the gull is endangered, and according to the Red List, it is “near threatened.” The Red List includes the birds’ non-Canadian habitats elsewhere in the Arctic where it appears to be doing a bit better.

The real issue here is sea ice supports many animals—from polar bears to sea birds to crustaceans. Without sea ice habitat, whose season and cover is shortening, these creatures will disappear.

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