March 4, 2011


Missing Marine Birds: Who’s Flown the Coop? ”

The next Marine Science Lecture, with Dr. Ignacio Vilchis, Postdoctoral Fellow, SeaDoc Society will take place on Tuesday, March 8, at Camp Orkila Marine Center and will consider the quesiton, “Why study marine birds?”

In short, they tell us a lot about the health of our ocean. While the 172 bird species that use the Salish Sea are each fascinating in their own right, collectively they also tell a story. When multiple species are declining we can evaluate the reasons why and learn about problemsthat are impacting multiple parts of the system.

SeaDoc’s marine bird project, led by Postdoctoral Fellow Nacho Vilchis, is unique since it’s one of the first attempts to gauge the status and trends of marine bird populations across the entire Salish Sea ecosystem.

Both American and Canadian scientists have been looking hard at changes in marine bird abundances since the 1990s. But agencies in both countries don’t have a mandate or the resources to do a cross border investigation of the entire Salish Sea.

This is critical because population declines in one part of the ecosystem may be offset by population increases somewhere else. That is to say, the birds might have flown to a new location. By looking at the whole ecosystem we get a much clearer idea of what’s really goingon.

Marine birds have a few cool aspects that make them excellent indicators of ecosystem health.

First, they’re easy to observe. We can go out and watch (or count) marine birds. This makes them much easier to study than forage fish, salmon, seals, killer whales, or pretty much any other group of animals in the ecosystem.
Second, for the most part they’re not exploited by humans. Not only are marine birds not commercially harvested but also there’s little sport hunting. Although some sea ducks are hunted, most marine birds like oystercatchers, loons, and gulls are not harvested.

And third, most species are long-lived. For example, Black Oystercatchers can live 16 years, Common Loons can live 19 years and the Glaucous-winged Gull can live to be 24 years old. Marine bird species have evolved this adaptation in response to the highly variable marine habitat. Food supply is not constant year after year.
Because marine birds can weather a bad year and go on to reproduce, changes in population tell us more about long-term trends in the environment.
Taken together, these factors make marine birds important to track for what they might tell us about larger issues and trends throughout the marine ecosystem.

Nacho Vilchis is in the middle of a two-year investigation into marine bird populations in the Salish Sea. He’s been collecting data sets from both sides of the border, including information from suchpartners as Bird Studies Canada, Canadian Wildlife Services, Simon Fraser University, the University of British Columbia, the Audubon Annual Christmas Bird Count, the University of Washington and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

This lecture will be the first time Dr. Vilchis shares the preliminary results of this groundbreaking project. It takes place at 7pm on Tuesday, March 8 at the Camp Orkila Marine Center on Orcas Island.

The 2010/11 Marine Science Lecture Series was created to inspire the general public and to highlight the amazing fish and wildlife of our region. Lectures are free. Please park in the upper parking lot at Camp Orkila. Shuttle service from the parking lot to the talk is available before and after the lecture.

The lecture Series is presented by program partners The SeaDoc Society and YMCA Camp Orkila. It has been made possible through generous sponsorship by Tom Averna (Deer Harbor Charters), Eclipse Charters, West Sound Marina and co-sponsorship by Barbara Brown, The KingfishInn and Shearwater Kayaks.

Article from Bull Wings: Orcas Issues, Views, and News

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