Quirks & Quarks

Arctic Ivory Gulls Poisoned by Mercury

Gradual accumulation of mercury in these arctic birds could explain their decline.
Ivory gull near Resolute Bay, Nunavut (K.A. Hobson)
Ivory gulls are scavengers that live in the High Arctic and feed on the carcasses of marine mammals. Since the 1980's, their population has diminished by about 80 percent, although the reason is not clear.

But a recent study by Dr. Alex Bond, a Conservation Scientist with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, who did his research at the University of Saskatchewan, found that Ivory Gull eggs have the highest concentration of methyl-mercury of any Arctic bird.

This toxic form of mercury is created by the burning of both industrial waste and fossils fuels in many parts of the world. It makes its way into the Arctic environment by way of the atmosphere, where it is then ingested by the gulls. The study shows levels of this form of mercury have increased by 45 times over the last 130 years, which could explain the decline in the Ivory Gull

Related Links

Paper in the Royal Society Proceedings B
University of Saskatchewan release
CP/CBC News story
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BC News story