This past summer the Cooper Island field camp was thankful to have a return visit from photographer Joe McNally. Joe has been taking photos longer than I have been studying Cooper Island Black Guillemots and his website shows both the quality and scope of his work. His visit in 2001 took place before we had a cabin and was for the purpose of obtaining photos for a New York Times Magazine story being written by Darcy Frey, who had visited the island earlier that year. Joe and I had a great time during his week on the island and have stayed in touch ever since.
In January 2002 I opened the Sunday NY Times to find the magazine cover was a photo Joe had taken of me standing just off Cooper Island’s North Beach in early July. Joe’s cover photo and Frey’s 12-thousand word story gave national prominence to what had been an obscure 27- year study of an Arctic seabird. More importantly, a national story about climate change was a rarity in 2002 and I have been told by many people that the article and Joe’s photo was what first made them aware of the realities of global warming.
Whenever Joe and I have chatted since his first visit, I have mentioned that should he return to Cooper Island, he would not find the island surrounded by ice as he did in 2001. During the almost two decades since his visit the pace of Arctic climate change has greatly increased as the region continues to warm. The loss of sea ice has resulted in the high mortality of Black Guillemot nestlings, as parents are unable to find their preferred ice-associated prey, and regular visits by polar bears, stranded on land as their sea ice habitat melts.
I have always hoped Joe might return to Cooper Island but told him that if he were to return and try to retake the cover photo I would now be standing in water and not on sea ice. Given Joe’s work schedule and international prominence I never thought he would be able to work in a return visit, but with the help of Nikon he arrived by boat in early July last summer bringing a film crew to document his attempt to retake the 2001 image of me standing on the ice.
The 2001 and 2019 images tell the story of Arctic climate change as much as my 45-year database on an Arctic seabird. Joe and his crew made a video documenting his recent visit and our efforts to get the 2019 image. The video has some great aerial shots of the island and also documents why Joe is such a great photographer. He is able to ignore the frigid waters sloshing into his boots while taking the shot of me standing in the ocean wearing hip-boots.
Can’t thank Joe enough for his continuing friendship and interest in my work. 18 years after his first visit he is still helping me tell the story of the Cooper Island Black Guillemots and the increasingly warmer Arctic.
The Cooper Island Black Guillemot colony was first recognized as a monitor of a warming climate in 2002, the 23rd year of the study. Decreasing sea ice in a rapidly melting Arctic continues to diminish its population and breeding success. Now in its 44th year, and with evidence of global climate change increasingly evident, our research is documenting this Arctic seabird’s struggle to survive.
Join us to hear about the current status of this unique Arctic seabird – our canary in the coal mine. Learn what the four decades of research on Cooper Island can teach us about how a warming Arctic impacts life everywhere, including the Pacific Northwest.
Doors open at 6 pm for a reception upstairs at the Swedish Club (just west of and overlooking Lake Union) with wine, beer and light fare with the presentation at 7 p.m.
For 13 years NOAA has released an annual “Arctic Report Card“. That NOAA feels the need to issue a report on the an annual basis reflects the rapid pace of change occurring in the region. As in past years the 2018 Arctic Report Card was released at the Annual Meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU), this year occurring on 9-14 December in Washington D.C.
Given the anomalous ice conditions in the Bering Sea in the winter of 2017-18, we were very anxious to retrieve the geolocation loggers this past June to see how the birds’ movements and distribution had been disrupted. Preliminary analysis, presented as part of a poster at the AGU meeting, found a dramatic major shift in the guillemots’ distribution for the entire nonbreeding season, with a striking 1000 km (over 600 miles) northward displacement in April, when birds occupied the Chukchi Sea in the Arctic Basin rather than the southern Bering Sea shelf in the Pacific.
Overwinter survival and condition of returning birds was also impacted by the anomalous conditions, with the annual survival of breeders the lowest on record (approximately 70 percent compared to the long-term average of 88 percent) and the first instance of large-scale nonbreeding (pairs occupying a nest but not laying eggs) and eggs being abandoned without being incubated. The number of breeding pairs was the lowest number since the late 1970s and, as we told Seth Borenstein of Associated Press, walking around the colony in 2018 felt like walking through a ghost town.