Background

The ivory gull Pagophila eburnea is a characteristic High Arctic species and has on average the northernmost breeding grounds of all birds. Due to its dependence on sea ice and it being a top predator in the Arctic food web, it is at risk for climate changes and environmental pollution.

Studies in Canada have documented an 80% decline in the breeding population in Canada from 1985 to 2004. Based on the results from the population studies in Canada, international effort to assess population status and trends in other circumpolar countries has been recommended. This is especially relevant for Norway and Russia, as these two countries may support 80% of the global population.

Scientists from the Norwegian Polar Institute in Tromsø and the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute in St. Petersburg initiated in 2006 a joint project aimed at evaluating the current status of the ivory gull populations in Norway (Svalbard) and the Russian Arctic. Due to its residence in desolate and close to inaccessible regions, the ivory gull remains one of the most poorly known seabird species in the world.
 
The project has the following aims:
 
Distribution and population size:
Survey known breeding colonies and areas of suitable habitat in Svalbard and the Russian Arctic (Franz Josef Land/Kara Sea islands/Severnaya Zemlya), and assess current population status (distribution and abundance).
 
Demography and monitoring:
Initiate monitoring in selected colonies in Svalbard and Russia to document population dynamics, demography, habitat use and diet of the ivory gull. Study migration patterns and breeding site fidelity by ringing and satellite telemetry.
 
Occurrence and levels of contaminants:
Screen for environmental contaminants and levels through the collection and analysis of blood samples and eggs from breeding colonies in Svalbard and Russia.
 
Health status:
Screen for parasites, pathogens, immune status through collection and analysis of blood samples, excrements and mucosal swabs.
 
Ivory gull on ground Ivory gull nesting on ground near an airfield Image: Maria Gavrilo