New Banded Gull Blog!

13 10 2009
Banded Great Black-Backed Gull: have you seen this bird? Let us know at the new blog!

Banded Great Black-Backed Gull: have you seen this bird? Let us know at the new blog!

Our own Dr. Julie Ellis now has her own blog! Her research on Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls generates a good deal of data on re-sightings of her banded gulls, and she’s been looking for a way to share those reports with the general, gull-loving public. So here it is, the inaugural post on her new blog, “The Gulls of Appledore.” You SEANET blog readers will be alerted on this site whenever there is a new sighting reported on the Gulls Blog, so you needn’t worry about keeping track of the two separately.

Keep your eyes out for banded gulls, Seanetters, and you too could be featured on… “The Gulls of Appledore!”


Maine seabirds in the archaeological record

8 10 2009
The Isles of Shoals off the New England coast

The Isles of Shoals: one of the most important 17th century commercial fisheries in the Gulf of Maine (image credit: Hamilton, Seeley, Brack)

Some very cool news out of the Isles of Shoals in the Gulf of Maine: Nathan Hamilton, Robin Hadlock Seeley and Ingrid Brack recently presented their archaelogical findings from Smuttynose Island where excavations have revealed a diverse array of animal remains dating back to the era before recorded history. Around 50,000 bone specimens were recovered, representing mammals, fish, marine gastropods, and, of particular interest to SEANET, birds. These remains reflect human consumption of various animal resources, and can be used to check against written records of life on the islands back as far as 1620 and the arrival of European settlers.

Example of study pit. The darker soils at the bottom likely date back to 900-1200 AD.

Example of study pit. The darker soils at the bottom likely date back to 900-1200 AD. (image credit Hamilton, Seeley, Brack)

Of note, a large number of duck bones were found throughout the layers of deposited earth, indicating their consistent harvest throughout history. Gulls, described as “Herring Gull size”, were found in especially large numbers at depths representing the years 1640-1690. These bones bear butchery marks, and the gulls were apparently hunted and eaten to the point of population collapse before the start of the 18th century when they all but disappear from the archaeological record. Other wild bird remains found included loon, cormorant, grouse, grebe, bittern, and assorted shorebirds, apparently reflecting the opportunistic gustatory habits of Shoals inhabitants.

Remains of the now extinct Great Auk were also found, dating to the 18th century; these may be the first remains of the species found in this region from the era of recorded history–all other Great Auk bones found in the Gulf of Maine have dated back to the time before Europeans arrived in North America.

SEANET is fascinated by these findings, and intrigued by what these results mean for the understanding of gulls, in particular. Gulls are now actively removed or deterred from tern breeding islands since the larger gulls will supplant their smaller counterparts if left to their own devices. While Herring Gull populations reached a peak in the 1960s and 70s, likely associated with anthropogenic food sources like landfills, it remains unclear what their populations were in prehistory or even during the time when they were heavily predated by European settlers in the 1600s. Were there more gulls then than now? Fewer? How did a large gull population interact with tern breeding colonies back then? Were gulls overrepresented in the archaeological record on Smuttynose because they were breeding there, or because they were attracted to discards from fishing activities there? Or do the records reflect the true abundance of the gulls in the 1600s?

We will likely never know some of the answers to these questions, but SEANET will keep an ear open for more such archaeological data that may shed more light on the topic.

Thanks to the authors of this poster for letting us share it with the SEANET community!

Hello Salem State!

6 10 2009
The Clam Shed and upweller at Cat Cove

The Clam Shed and upweller at Cat Cove

A welcome to the folks in the biology department at Salem State College in Massachusetts! Biology major Kathryn Lawler offered to make a short presentation on SEANET to the new bio majors at the College (full disclosure: Kathryn Lawler is the SEANET blogger’s sister). Kathryn suggested that members of the Biology Society might band together and alternate beach walk duty, thereby generating weekly reports for their chosen piece of shore. SEANET thinks this is a brilliant idea, and is not at all biased by the family ties involved. Kathryn has also spoken to the folks at Salem State’s Cat Cove Marine Laboratory and appears to have wrung out an agreement for at least one person there to patrol the adjacent beach. Fine work you’re doing out there Kata!

So, welcome aboard to any and all Salem Staters; we’re happy to have you and look forward to working with you!

An end to fish?

1 10 2009

deadfishmagAn article in The New Republic is generating a great deal of discussion in the seabird community of late. The unfortunately named Aquacalypse Now describes current fisheries management practices as a giant marine Ponzi scheme where depleted stocks are abandoned and ever smallerĀ  species come under intense fishing pressure. Author Daniel Pauly describes the culprit as a vast “fishing-industrial complex” spanning all the industrialized nations and endangering not just the fish themselves, but human livelihoods and the sustainability of the entire marine ecosystem, including, of course, seabirds.

The article is well worth a read, and SEANET welcomes your thoughts, so bring on the comments Seanetters!