I have never really been a fan of seabirds. Born and raised on the coast, all I remember from my childhood regarding seabirds were the seagulls that left guano in my parent’s car, spent the whole day “yelling,” and often stole my food. Now that I work with birds and have learned of many seabirds I still seem to shake off the prejudice I have towards seagulls. However, this past weekend I decided to learn more about seabirds and attended a Seabird Stewardship talk with Mai Maheigan at the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History.
Mai Maheigan works for the Seabird Protection Network Gulf of the Farralones National Marine Sanctuary a multi-organization collaborative that works to reduce human disturbance to seabirds and other marine wildlife along the California coast. Mai started her lecture by talking about the upwelling that occurs in the Monterey Bay Canyon. The upwelling is caused by the rising of hot water and the lowering of cold water, which produces circles in the bottom of the ocean and brings up nutrients from deep beneath the surface. The nutrients brought up are beneficial for plants and plankton that require both nutrients and proper sunlight to flourish. This brings tremendous diversity in the California Central Coast and establishes the foundation of the food chain. The micro-invertebrates feed on the nutrients and plankton and then larger and larger invertebrates feed on the smaller invertebrates up until the food chain reaches seabirds and shorebirds, which is the reason why so many seabirds are in the Central Coast.
Mai focused on the Common Murre and began their story with tales of thousands of birds that would nest near San Francisco. Common Murres nest in colonies and in the bare rocks. Because of this the eggs of the common murre are shaped as a pear, diminishing the probability that the eggs will roll down an incline. Easily spooked, common murre numbers rapidly declined after the Gold Rush 49ers ravished their eggs as a substitute for chicken eggs. About 12-14 million eggs were seized.
After the Wildlife Refuge was created in 1906 the common murre numbers began to increase. However, oil skills, gill nets, and human disturbance still threaten the common murre. Mai is in charge of the human disturbance aspect of conservation which includes disturbance caused by kayaking, airplanes, dogs, boats, and drones. She finished the lecture by encouraging us to report disturbance as an attempt to obtain large sets of data to complement reproductive success study and hopefully establish more effective protective measures.
By the end of the talk I obtained a new appreciation for seabirds. Common murres left me fascinated. Not only have they survived countless threats but are also capable of incredible feats. They return to the same nesting spot year after year. As in the exact same spot with only a few inches of deviation. Even more amazing are their ability to swim down 400 ft to catch fish.