Numerous contaminants, including flame retardants, found in Arctic gulls

Eilís QuinnEye on the Arctic
Dan Irizarry/cc photo via Flickr

A recent study has discovered a range of contaminants in the glaucous gull population in Canada’s eastern Arctic.

The study was conducted near the predominantly Inuit community of Cape Dorset in Canada’s Nunavut territory.

New contaminants such as flame retardants were found in the birds, along with older contaminants such as mercury and chlorine.

“High concentrations of flame retardants will be found in animals mostly from temperate areas, from industrialized areas,” said scientist Jonathan Verreault, holder of the Canada research chair in comparative avian toxicology and a professor at Université du Québec à Montréal.

“But the thing is that they are volatile compounds meaning that they can reach the atmospheric current and get to the Arctic through air current but also through oceanic current.”

Responsible for population decline?

Next, scientists want to examine what effect the contaminants are having on the gulls’ long term health and breeding. In some Arctic gull populations, colonies have declined by 50 percent.

“We cannot say right now if the contamination level is linked to the decline in the glaucous gull population we’ve observed in past years,” said Verreault. “But this was a first step at least in screening those contaminants.”

Quick Facts: Glaucous Gulls are found in Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Northern Europe and Russia. The species breeds in regions across the High Arctic. They feed on everything from fish, eggs and chicks, to adult birds and small mammals. Nests can be found in sea cliffs, open tundra, islands, lakes and ponds.

For the full interview with Jonathan Verreault, click here

This story is posted on Alaska Dispatch as part of Eye on the Arctic, a collaborative partnership between public and private circumpolar media organizations.