See that seagull? Environment Canada asks Vancouver Islanders to help track gulls

See that seagull? Environment Canada asks Vancouver Islanders to help track gulls
City of White Rock/Twitter

While seagulls may seem like an ordinary sight on Vancouver Island, researchers with Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) are asking Islanders to keep an eye out for some certain gulls in particular.

The annual Salish Seagull Project is underway in B.C. for its fifth year, with researchers hoping to measure the health of seagulls along the province’s coast.

In a social media post, lead research scientist Mark Hipfner said seagulls are a good way to measure the health of marine ecosystems, since the birds rely on the ocean for survival.

“So if the marine ecosystem that the birds depend on is healthy, then the birds will be healthy, and around the world gulls are used as indicators of the health of marine ecosystems,” he said in the video posted on Feb. 15.

The Salish Seagull Project is taking place on Vancouver Island, as well as the North Coast, Sunshine Coast, Haida Gwaii and Metro Vancouver.

Researchers are looking for California Gulls and Glaucous-winged Gulls in these regions, since they come to visit Vancouver Island from as far away as Washington, Oregon and Alaska at this time of year.

“The Salish Sea is a major, major wintering area for gulls all over the continent,” said Hipfner.

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The project first began in 2020, and since then scientists have put coloured metal and plastic bands around the legs of some seagulls to track individual birds. This helps researchers measure the bird’s health over time, and compare them to younger and older seagulls.

“We trap gulls and collect blood samples and feather samples, and with the blood samples we get a collection of physiological measures of their health,” said Hipfner.

“We send the samples off to a laboratory in Ottawa where we’re measuring contaminants, the health of individual gulls and how it varies by years in a relatively short timeframe, and how it varies from area to area,” he said.

The research also helps scientists track the birds’ movements, sheltering habits and overall survivability.

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Scientist Mark Hipfner puts coloured bands on the leg of a seagull. (City of White Rock/Twitter)

Residents on Vancouver Island are being asked to keep an eye out for seagulls with coloured bands on their legs.

If they spot one, they’re asked to note the time and location – and take a photo if possible – and send it to Environment and Climate Change Canada.

Those sightings can be submitted online here.

“So the work that we do here in the Salish Sea sort of ties into a global collection of studies, so we can draw inference from our gulls and similar activities going on elsewhere that really provide big picture context for our research,” said Hipfner.

Adam ChanAdam Chan

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