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Guillemots – Arctic Canaries For Climate Change!

George-Divoky-with-guillemotEvery summer for four decades George Divoky has gone solo to a far flung Arctic Island, which was named for a Brit of the HMS Plover searching for Franklin. Cooper Island is an 8 foot high gravel barrier beach island twenty-five miles east of Barrow, Alaska. Black guillemots should not be nesting there because their nests are burrows into cliff sides, but George has found guillemots burrowing under abandoned munitions boxes (circa 1950s). These seabirds have breeded successfully here until the recent onslaught of global warming/climate change. Today they, one of the closest relatives to the extinct Great Auk, are threatened like never before.

Find out why no animal has closer ties to the ice of the Arctic than does this population of Black Guillemots by following the links to George’s field reports.

Discover Guillemots in answering the following four questions, and then you’ll have a chance to write George –

1. How many black guillemots sit on an ice flow at the Friends of Coopers Islands website? See here

2. What effects, with the Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, will there be on the potential threats of oil to the arctic marine system that surrounds Cooper Island? Click here

3. What changes are happening to guillemots as the distance between Cooper Island and the August pack ice increases? Find out now

4. How with Pelican Cases is there hope for black guillemots nesting on Cooper Island? See here

Tell George Divoky what you think of his seabird research. Complete the questions and send us your thoughts on how we may best address the fait of gallant guillemots who give away their nests to horned puffins and become a light snack for polar bears. We’ll forward to George Divoky. George would welcome a box prepared by a group shipped to Seattle. He’ll take it to Cooper Island and introduce feathered friends to nest box.


Clean white under-wing distinguishes the black guillemot (Cepphus grylle) from the pigeon guillemot. Black guillemots feed under the arctic ice on fish such as capelin. Unprecedented retreat and melt of the arctic pack ice challenges guillemots and has been heralded by the arrival of open-water-feeding seabirds to nest next to guillemots.

COOPER ISLAND, ALASKA — The subtitle of Darcy Frey’s 2002 NY Times Magazine article on the early impacts of climate change seen on Cooper Island, referred to me as a “lonely scientist at the end of the earth”.  This wording was likely the work of an editor, who wanted to portray the “forlorn” qualities inherent in the word “lonely” and the phrase “end of the earth”.  A more accurate (but less romantic) wording would be a “solitary scientist at the top of the world”.  While it is true that I have spent weeks and months alone on the island without company, it is important to note that the Cooper Island research has benefited greatly from a number of collaborators and coworkers who have played a major role in maintaining the fieldwork since 1975. Read George Divoky’s blog.