In 2007, Lewis Brower was good to steer a small group of us in a speck of a skiff twenty-five miles east of Barrow Alaska across the Beaufort Sea to Cooper Island. The two oversized loons swimming off the island’s gravel shore were yellow-billed loons. George Divoky met us on the shore. We walked north up the beach to the high point in the middle of this sliver of an island where stood George’s little wooden cabin with a tent next to. Along the island’s ridge to our left and strewn across the north facing slope to the water were gray wooden boards of munitions boxes.
In 1970, George Divoky visited Cooper Island was surprised to find black guillemots nesting beneath large pieces of wood, the remains of munitions boxes. These birds of the Arctic Ocean, that prefer to feed in the openings between icebergs, are known for nesting in cliffs. George has returned annually to study the guillemots of Cooper Island.
George lifted one wooden box while I lay on the ground to catch a glimpse of a puffin nesting within. Unlike the iceberg loving guillemots, puffins are birds of open water. The Arctic waters north of Cooper Island are changing due to global warming. Every summer the pack ice was moving farther offshore, requiring guillemots to fly further to find food for their chicks.
The next summer, frustrated by the expanding distance to icebergs, a hungry polar bear came ashore and hit the guillemot population hard. George responded by calling for bear-proof protective cases. Nanuk Professional Protective Cases were found to be the best. Nanuk is also the Inuit name for polar bear. The bear picked up one case. Knocked it about but no bird came out. The bear quit after one failed attempt.
The Ocean River Institute raised funds for the purchase of protective cases. The black guillemots of Cooper Island survive. For current information and to support George Divoky’s work visit Friends of Cooper Island.