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Resource Ecology and Ecosystem Modeling Program

Seabird Coordinated Studies

see captions   see captions
Figure 2 (left). Stomach contents from a Northern Fulmar including plastic fragments, nurdles, rocks, squid beaks, and seed pod. Figure 3 (right). Sorting out all of the plastic fragments ingested by a Northern Fulmar. Photos courtesy of Hannah Nevins, Oikonos.

The Seabird Coordinated Studies group, in partnership with fisheries observers, the Fisheries Monitoring and Analysis (FMA) Division and the nonprofit group Oikonos, for several years has been involved with salvaging seabirds caught as bycatch in Alaska groundfish fisheries, sending them to a necropsy lab, and then having the stomach contents analyzed for food habits (Fig. 2) and plastics (Fig. 3).

Preliminary examination of 30 albatross (19 Laysan and 11 Black-footed) and 43 Northern Fulmars has been accomplished to date. We’ve found much more natural prey in the stomachs than had been expected for bycaught birds. In addition, food items introduced by the fishery also appear to be readily identifiable. This will allow for important information to be gained on the natural feeding strategy of these birds in the region.

The Bering Sea albatross samples will provide information from an oceanic region not previously represented. Most comprehensive North Pacific albatross diet studies, utilizing stomach samples, are based on samples collected during the breeding season from the Hawaiian Archipelago or from bycaught birds taken in the North Pacific Transition Zone.

Examination of the northern fulmar samples also reveals more natural prey than anticipated. Northern Fulmars make up the majority of bycaught birds in the Bering Sea region. The large sample size of birds returned by observers should ultimately allow for a detailed study of potential regional and seasonal variations in the natural diet of this species.

By Shannon Fitzgerald

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