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Summary of Seabird Studies at WERC

Sooty Shearwater --Photographer: Josh Adams

Seabird research by scientists at the San Francisco Bay Estuary Field Station of the USGS Western Ecological Research Center (WERC) focuses on various aspects of seabird ecology with directives that are aligned with the 2008 US Ocean Action Plan. Of primary concern is research targeting vulnerable, threatened, and endangered species so that resource managers concerned with island and ocean conservation will have the best available knowledge to assess seabirds and their habitats—both at sea and on land.

Seabirds (and including sea ducks, grebes, and loons) are an abundant and ecologically diverse group. Species occupy all the World’s oceans from both poles, to the equator. Greatest diversities and abundances are concentrated near continental coastlines and seasonally within coastal bays and estuaries. Altered land use patterns (e.g., human occupation of isolated breeding islands, increasing coastal urbanization, and disturbances to critical nearshore foraging habitats, etc.) and altered marine ecosystems resulting from climate change, pollution, and industrialized fishing have combined to place stress on many seabird populations.

Project Details

The USGS WERC Seabird Program works closely with state, federal, and local partners (including academic institutions and NGOs). Current research includes:

 Laysan Albatross  --Photographer: J. Felis, USGS  Main Hawaiian Islands Seabird Tracking Study
In 2013, USGS-Western Ecological Research Center (WERC) initiated collaborative at-sea tracking studies of seabirds breeding in the Main Hawaiian Islands (MHI) to provide information needed by BOEM (Bureau of Ocean Energy Management) to assess potential risks that proposed offshore energy developments could have to MHI seabirds.
 Hawaiian Petrel Seabird in flight with wings spread wide --Photographer: Ron LeValley Endangered Hawaiian Seabirds
Hawaiian seabird species are impacted by non-native predators and habitat degradation.  Studies of ecology and habitat use, as well as the impact of predators, can help protect these threatened species.
 Baird’s Beaked Whales (Berardius bairdii) --Photographer: Jonathan Felis, USGS Pacific Continental Shelf Environmental Assessment (PaCSEA): Distribution and Abundance of Seabirds and Marine Mammals off California, Oregon, and Washington.
Beginning in 2011, the USGS (in collaboration with BOEM) initiated new multi-year, seasonal surveys to describe the at-sea distribution and abundances of marine birds and mammals over Pacific Northwest continental shelf and slope waters, with particular focus given to potential alternative energy development sites.
 Wind Energy development, photo shows 14 to 16 windmills in the distance placed in shallow ocean waters. Seabird Vulnerability to Renewable Energy Projects:  Quantifying seabird vulnerability to offshore wind energy development can inform project design and siting for federal offshore wind energy projects.  We have created a comprehensive database of marine vulnerability to potential offshore wind energy infrastructure in the California Current System.
 CA current ecosystem Seabird telemetry atlas California Current Ecosystem Seabird Telemetry Atlas (CCESTA)
Despite the fact that researchers have tracked the movements of numerous seabirds of many species throughout the North Pacific Ocean, this information often is inaccessible to marine resource managers. The California Current Ecosystem Seabird Telemetry Atlas (CCESTA) seeks to facilitate connectivity between data holders, scientists, and resource managers working in the California Current region.
Map plot showing marine mammals sightings Spatial Database for the At-Sea Distribution and Abundance of Seabirds and Marine Mammals off Southern California: 1999-2002
From 1999-2002, the USGS and Humboldt State University (HSU) worked with Minerals Management Service (MMS) to quantify the at-sea distribution of seabirds and marine mammals in Southern California. This product integrates the USGS-HSU seabird and marine mammal dataset with fisheries databases in a comprehensive relational database linked to a GIS, with a webpage version for public access.
View from Scorpion Rock of sunset, Scorpion Ranch on Santa Cruz Island, and lone Western Gull. Research and Restoration in Channel Islands
Channel Islands habitats off California is ecologically important and extremely vulnerable to disturbance.  In collaboration with local partners, we are conducting research on seabirds and island habitats.

Seabirds resting in ocean water near Capitola


Tracking the movements and migrations of California Current seabirds
Movement data provide more detailed insights into habitat use and may prove essential for interpreting survey data to best inform adaptive management plans that consider renewable energy development, marine spatial planning, and future climate change effects. USGS is involved with several telemetry studies to better understand movement patterns and “high-use” critical habitats among seabirds in the California Current and beyond.

Kittlitz's Murrelet floating in its preferred habitat


Identifying Kittlitz’s Murrelet nesting habitat for North America  
The Kittlitz’s Murrelet is a small, non-colonial seabird endemic to marine waters of Alaska and eastern Russia that may have experienced significant population decline in recent decades. We characterized and mapped nesting habitat in North America at the landscape scale.

Gray-faced Petrel --Photographer: Landcare Research, NZ


Grey-faced Petrel Ecology 
Known to the Hauraki and Ngati Awa Iwi (local communities) as Oi—after its pure-toned flight call, Grey-faced Petrel (Pterodroma macroptera gouldi) is revered as taonga (treasured). This gadfly petrel is abundant among the Ruamahua (Aldermen) Islands located off northeastern New Zealand where it is considered a keystone species on its nesting islands. Scientist Josh Adams is assisting Landcare Research, New Zealand with satellite telemetry, data processing, and interpretation.



Research Collaborations
WERC seabird researchers are involved in collaborative studies with scientists from BOEM, USFWS, NOAA Fisheries, National Park Service, Beachcombers, Oikonos Ecosystem Knowledge, Island Conservation, Conservation Metrics, and Landcare Research, New Zealand.

WERC Researchers:

USGS Contact For This Project
Josh Adams
(831) 460-7566
Santa Cruz Field Station
400 Natural Bridges Drive
Santa Cruz, Ca 95060
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