Seabirds and Forage Fish Ecology

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Alaska's coastal and offshore waters provide foraging habitat for an estimated 100 million birds comprising more than 90 different species; from loons and seaducks that nest inland, to petrels and puffins that breed on islands off shore. All these birds depend on the sea to provide a wide variety of food types— from clams, crabs and urchins nearshore— to krill, forage fish, and squid offshore. The availability of nesting habitat and suitable prey are important natural factors that regulate the distribution and abundance of marine birds. But seabird populations are also affected by human activities that have direct impacts (pollution, bycatch in fishing gear) and indirect effects (global warming alters food availability) on birds.

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Common Murres in a colony in Cook Inlet, Alaska in 2017

Common Murres in a colony in Cook Inlet, Alaska in 2017.
​​​​(Credit: Sarah Schoen, USGS. Public domain.)

The Department of Interior (DOI) is mandated by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Endangered Species Act to conserve and protect all seabirds. Seabirds also serve as practical indicators of change in the marine environment— natural or human induced— because they can be readily monitored at colonies and at sea. For all these reasons, marine bird research is a vital part of the DOI mission in Alaska and the North Pacific. We study population biology and feeding ecology of a variety of seabird species, including threatened and endangered species. We use a multidisciplinary approach that incorporates study of marine habitats and food webs so that we can better understand why seabird populations fluctuate over time. This website highlights some of the research conducted by the Seabird, Forage Fish and Marine Ecology Project at the Alaska Science Center.


The  R/V Alaskan Gyre in Katmai National Park, Alaska

The  R/V Alaskan Gyre in Katmai National Park, Alaska.
(Credit: George Esslinger, USGS. Public domain.)