Frigid Alaska winters can be a tough time and place for wildlife. Food is scarce, the climate can be extreme, and days are short. Many species of birds head south.
However, some hardier species, such as marbled murrelets, common murres, pelagic cormorants, black-legged kittiwakes, and glaucous-winged gulls tough it out over the winter.
Since 2007, Dr. Mary Anne Bishop, a research ecologist at the Prince William Sound Science Center, has surveyed the Sound in fall and winter to document these bird species. This work is done on behalf of Gulf Watch Alaska, an ecosystem monitoring program funded by the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council. The Trustee Council documents the recovery of wildlife species after the Exxon Valdez oil spill.
The Council recently worked with Dr. Bishop and Anne Schaefer, the Center’s avian research assistant, to expand the survey area. The Council needed to know if marine birds congregated in areas around the Valdez Marine Terminal and near the tanker lanes. If a spill were to occur, these are the most likely areas for oil to come ashore.
Quick protection if a spill happens
When creating oil spill contingency plans, it is important to know where critical habitats are located. Plans can be created ahead of time that will help responders act fast to protect these areas before they are damaged.
The researchers noted specific areas to safeguard including Port Etches and Zaikof Bay near Hinchinbrook Entrance, the head of Port Valdez between the Valdez container terminal and the Valdez Glacier stream, and in southeastern Port Fidalgo.
This was the first of three years proposed for this study. The report notes that it is difficult to draw conclusions from a single year, because composition and density of birds can vary during the overwintering, non-breeding season.
The results of the survey will be available through the Alaska Ocean Observing System.
More information is available in the full report: