Seabird Ecology in the Bering Sea
What Are They Doing?
The research team studied the foraging behavior of seabirds nesting in the Pribilof Islands. Specifically, they were interested in two piscivorous seabirds – the Thick-billed Murres and Black-legged Kittiwakes – on St. George and St. Paul Islands.
The team conducted this research to determine how climate warming and sea ice retreat from the southern portions of the Bering Sea will impact seabird nesting success and population growth rates on these islands.
To help gather data, team researchers used Global Positioning System (GPS) technology to track breeding seabirds when they foraged at sea. They also employed time-depth recorders (TDRs) to determine the amount of time the birds spent on the water surface, as well as how deep and often they dived.
The information they gathered using this equipment and their direct observation helped to confirm where birds from each island find food and how sea ice extent affects the feeding locations and trip length. They also got a better understanding of the effects of foraging behavior on colony diet, reproductive success, and adult survival.
Where Are They?
The team conducted research on St. George and St. Paul Islands, which are located in the southwestern Bering Sea and are part of the state of Alaska. These islands, and two other much smaller ones, form a group of islands known as the Pribilof’s. There is a small town of approximately 150 people on St. George and one of approximately 500 on St. Paul. To reach the islands, the research team flew on a commercial airline.
Meet the Team
For 17 years, Tom Harten has been a teacher with the CHESPAX environmental education program in southern Maryland. Authentic research projects and environmental action have been central to the success of this program where K-12 students use the Chesapeake Bay and surrounding watershed as an outdoor learning laboratory. Mr. Harten has a degree in outdoor education and a master’s degree in science education from the University of Memphis, with certifications in Earth and space science and outdoor education. As lifelong birder and naturalist, Mr. Harten has traveled extensively in the U.S. and in the tropics in pursuit of these interests. He also enjoys canoeing, camping, running, and, most of all, spending time with his wife Tracy and son Jake. He is looking forward to the PolarTREC experience in the Pribilof’s because it will be a fantastic opportunity to study seabirds at close range and to add to our knowledge of these fascinating creatures.
Rosana Paredes is a Post-doctoral Research Associate with Oregon State University and Project Leader of the Seabird Telemetry Component of the Bering Sea Integrated Ecosystem Research Program (BSIERP). She will be working on St. George Island this summer. Dr. Paredes has conducted biological research in Peru, Canada, and Alaska and her main areas of scientific interest include animal behavior, ecology, and the conservation of marine ecosystems.
Daniel Roby is currently the Assistant Unit Leader at the U.S. Geological Survey Oregon Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit and Professor of Wildlife Ecology in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Oregon State University. He received a B.A. in biology from Antioch College, a M.S. in wildlife management from the University of Alaska in 1978, and a Ph.D. in biology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1986. Dr. Roby has conducted research on the ecology of seabirds in Alaska, Hawaii, Greenland, Newfoundland, South Georgia, and Antarctica, as well as throughout the Pacific Northwest. His primary area of research is the physiological ecology and conservation biology of seabirds, including the effects of global warming on seabird populations in the Bering Sea.
Rachael Orben has worked almost continuously as a field biologist since graduating from Cornell University in 2002 with a degree in Biology. Working in biology has taken Ms. Orben to locations across the United States, Greenland, Palau, and the Antarctic. She has spent five summer seasons studying seabirds in Alaska, and is currently the field crew leader on St. Paul Island as part of the Seabird Telemetry component of the Bering Sea Integrated Ecosystem Research Program (BSIERP). She is beginning her master's degree at the University of California Santa Cruz in the fall, and when not catching birds, she enjoys rock climbing and playing ultimate frisbee.