Seabird Ecology and Marine Planning

Science Center Objects

Seabirds are Department of the Interior (DOI) Trust Species and are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Endangered Species Act. To support science-based decision capacity and Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) among U.S. Government resource managers, Dr. Josh Adams and the WERC seabird team have partnered with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and others (including international research partners and universities) to examine seabird communities at sea and the pelagic ecology of far-ranging seabirds such as albatrosses and petrels.

Red-tailed Tropicbird and chick

Red-tailed Tropicbird (Phaethon rubricauda) and chick.
(Credit: Jonathan Felis, USGS WERC. Public domain.)

The Pacific Offshore Continental Shelf marine ecosystems are large and important

The federally managed waters of the Pacific Offshore Continental Shelf stretch from 3 to 200 nautical miles off the coasts of California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, and Hawaii and support diverse marine life and critical marine habitats for marine birds and mammals. Within these ecosystems, altered ocean-use patterns, human occupation of isolated breeding islands, introduced species, and increasing coastal urbanization coupled with climate-mediated changes to marine ecosystems, pollution, and industrialized fishing impose cumulative stress on many seabird populations.

Greatest diversities and abundances of marine birds and mammals occur near continental coastlines, on islands, and within coastal bays and estuaries. For example, the biome of the Southern California Bight offshore continental shelf provides habitat for greater than 80 marine bird species and more than 20 species of seabirds breed in the region, primarily on the California Channel Islands. This is the only region in California that supports breeding Black Storm-Petrels (Oceanodroma melania), Brown Pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis), Scripps’s Murrelets (Synthliboramphus scrippsi), and Elegant Terns (Thalasseus elegans). The area also contains nearly half of the world population of Ashy Storm-Petrels (Oceanodrama homochroa). In addition, many seabirds from throughout the Pacific migrate through or winter in this area.


Brown Booby with TDR (Time-Depth Recorder) on its leg

Brown Booby (Sula leucogaster) with TDR (Time-Depth Recorder) on its leg which is used to track diving behavior of the bird. (Credit: Jonathan Felis, USGS WERC. Public domain.)

How do we do it?

Because the foraging habitats of seabirds are vast, we rely on large-scale aerial surveys and advanced, sophisticated tracking technologies. Our team has developed techniques that are advancing the understanding of seabirds, their habitat connectivity, and conservation concerns.

Research objectives include:

  • Quantifying distribution, abundance, and ranging behaviors of marine birds and mammals at sea
  • Modeling species distributions and habitat associations at sea among marine birds and mammals
  • Mapping and assessing seabird breeding populations on land


Current Research Projects


Past Projects


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