Using satellite telemetry and observations collected from ships since 1969, researchers have now documented the most important wintering habitats for ivory gulls breeding in Canada and Svalbard. The study is an important contribution to the efforts made to save the ivory gull from extinction.

The ivory gull is an Arctic seabird species that, due to its special biology and affiliation to the ice edge, is facing multiple threats as a result of climate change and long-range transported contaminants. This species is red-listed in Canada and Norway, and the steep decline in the Canadian population over the last 30 years has increased the need for knowledge about the migration patterns and habitat needs of this rare seabird. In a recent Norwegian-Canadian research collaboration, satellite transmitters were used to track the migration routes of ivory gulls breeding on Svalbard in the Barents Sea and at Seymour Island in the Canadian Arctic. The researchers also used observational data collected from ships between 1969 and 2010.

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The study revealed that the area mostly used by the ivory gulls is in the Davis Strait, where they spent 90 % of their time over sea ice. The findings indicated that the edge of the pack-ice in Davis Strait is a key habitat for ivory gulls from different areas every winter. The Davis Strait is also a core area for whelping hooded seals and the researchers suspect that ivory gulls find valuable food on the whelping patches, as well as on polar bear kills and fish near the pack-ice.

Contact person: Hallvard Strøm, Norwegian Polar Institute

Being opportunistic and carrion-feeding in a frozen wasteland, the ivory gull is closely associated with seals and polar bears.
Photo: Vegard B. Fjeldheim