For Immediate Release
Shaye Wolf, (415) 632-5301 or (415) 385-5746 (cell)
State Endangered Species Protection Sought for the Kittlitz's Murrelet
Glacier-dependent Alaskan Seabird Imperiled by Global Warming
ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Today the Center for Biological Diversity filed a scientific petition with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to protect the imperiled Kittlitz’s murrelet
under Alaska’s Endangered Species Act due to threats from global
warming, oil pollution, and fisheries bycatch mortality that have
placed this seabird on a trajectory to extinction.
The Kittlitz’s murrelet is a small seabird that nests on open ground
near the tops of the rugged coastal mountains of Alaska and Siberia.
Also known as “glacier murrelets,” Kittlitz’s murrelets concentrate in
coastal waters next to tidewater glaciers and glacier outflows for
foraging during the summer breeding season. The Kittlitz’s murrelet has
particularly large eyes that allow it to specialize in turbid glacial
waters where its fish and zooplankton prey are concentrated. However,
the Kittlitz’s murrelet’s dependence on glacially influenced waters
makes it highly vulnerable to global warming.
Average surface temperatures in Alaska increased twice as much as the
global average over the past century. In response to this rapid
regional warming, Alaska’s coastal glaciers are dramatically retreating
and thinning, reducing the Kittlitz’s murrelet foraging habitat. As
coastal glaciers melt away, Kittlitz’s murrelet populations in Alaska
have plummeted by 80 to 90 percent in the past 20 years, prompting the
World Conservation Union to list the seabird as critically endangered.
“Like the polar bear, the Kittlitz’s murrelet is being pushed toward
extinction by rapid global warming in Alaska,” said Shaye Wolf, a
biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity who studies the
effects of global warming on seabirds. “If we are to save the
Kittlitz’s murrelet, we must halt global warming to protect this
species’ remaining habitat before it is too late. Reducing threats from
marine oil spills and bycatch from gillnet fisheries are also
imperative to reversing its decline toward extinction.”
Compounding the impacts from global warming, the Kittlitz’s murrelet is
threatened by oil spills in Alaskan waters due to the high volumes of
oil tanker and vessel traffic and current and proposed offshore oil and
gas development within its foraging range in the Cook Inlet and the
Bering and Chukchi Seas. Up to 10 percent of the worldwide population
is estimated to have been killed by the 1989 Exxon-Valdez oil
spill, highlighting its vulnerability to spills. In addition, hundreds
of Kittlitz’s murrelets are estimated to drown each year in coastal
gillnet fisheries in Alaska. And ever-increasing volumes of boat and
cruise ship traffic in the glaciated bays and fjords where the birds
concentrate in summer disrupt the murrelets’ ability to find food for
themselves and their chicks.
Despite the multitude
of threats, the Kittlitz’s murrelet has yet to receive the critical
protections of the Alaska State and federal Endangered Species Act. In
2001 the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service to list the species under the federal Endangered
Species Act. As a result, in 2004 the Service determined that the
Kittlitz’s murrelet warranted protection but was “precluded” from
listing, effectively denying this species any protections. Today’s
petition asks the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and
Game to place the Kittlitz’s murrelet on the state list of endangered
species and provide it needed protections in Alaska state lands and
“The Kittlitz’s murrelet is one of
the most imperiled birds in the United States, and we can’t afford to
delay any longer in providing it the strongest protections possible,”
More information on the Kittlitz’s murrelet and the petition is available at
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