Spectacled Eiders are large sea ducks that live most of their lives in the Arctic ocean. While most of the world population of Spectacled Eiders nest in Russia, the population in Alaska has experienced a 96% decline and was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1993. Biologists have identified several possible causes for the decline, including ingestion of contaminants, such as lead shot, and predation at nesting sites. Due to their unique habitat location, little is known about this duck’s basic biology and migration. Additionally, the entire population congregates at a single wintering site in the Bering Sea. Rapid changes in climate or ecosystem health, particularly in this location, could have a serious impact on this extraordinary species. Activities such as offshore development of oil and gas in the Arctic, or even expansion of commercial fishing could also have an impact.
Before the affects of these changes can be assessed, biologists need basic information about the distribution and habitat use of Spectacled Eiders. Satellite telemetry is a relatively new tool that collects information on tagged animals, regardless of location, activity, or weather.
Matt Sexson, USGS Wildlife Biologist, is studying the eiders to provide information for the management and conservation of this species. For the past four years he has led a team of biologists and veterinarians to the North Slope of Alaska in order to assess the population and place transmitters in select birds. The team captures eiders using nets and decoys along coastal nesting areas, and then transports them to camp. Veterinarians then perform a specialized surgery to implant each bird with a small satellite transmitter, and once recovered, the eiders are released. The transmitters send a signal to a satellite every 4-5 days, which collects data on the movements of each bird. Each transmitter provides approximately 2 years of data.
Over 100 Spectacled Eiders have been tagged with satellite transmitters as part of this project. Veterinarians from the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, and the Mesker Park Zoo and Botanical Garden have supported this research by helping with capture and placement of transmitters. Data collected from these birds will be received through 2013, providing much needed information about Spectacled Eider habitat use critical for continued species recovery and conservation in Alaska.
CLICK HERE for a complete summary of the Spectacled Eider Project and for satellite images.
CLICK HERE for the BBC's Saving Species Episode 17 interview about the Spectacled Eider Project.
CLICK HERE for the BBC's Saving Species Episode 18 interview about the Spectacled Eider Project.
CLICK HERE for the BBC's Saving Species Episope 19 interview about the Spectacled Eider Project.