Advice from Tamás Székely for young shorebird biologists

Thank you to Tamás for advice to those in our field. I find this to be applicable for research scientists in general and wanted to share. This is taken directly from his recent publication https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007%2Fs10336-019-01669-4.pdf in supplementary material.

Ten pieces of advice for young shorebird biologists.

  1. Love what you are doing. Shorebirds are wonderful organisms and by watching their behaviour and studying their ecology and evolution, you not only do good science but also have fun. Scientists often contrast the SPECIES-focused research against the QUESTION-focused research: don’t buy this argument. It is false: you need both detailed understanding of the organism and good knowledge of the subject to make discoveries.
  2. Respect the organism you study and learn from them. The animals you study can teach you important skills. Open your mind, and watch and listen to what they say. Do not gloss over strange behaviours or weird features: there may be a good reason why the animals have these traits.
  3. Be driven by discoveries – remember the Szent-Györgyi quote above. Scientists often boasts about their achievements (e.g., how many papers they wrote, how much grant money they have, how often they are invited to conferences, how many students and post-docs they command): don’t buy these. The most important measure in science is discoveries.
  4. Be prepared to work hard toward an objective BUT keep your eyes open for opportunities. You need to find a balance between moving toward your targets and allowing minor detours that may eventually help achieve your goals.
  5. Failures can be important. “Success consists of going from one failure to another without loss of enthusiasm” (Winston Churchill) – this is true in science. Learn from your own failures but do not take them too seriously.
  6. Admit your own weaknesses. No scientist is perfect. It’s true that some scientist knows more than others, although good scientists should know their limits of knowledge and skills.
  7. Never put all eggs in one basket; neither scientifically nor career-wise. Do have several irons in the fire: diversify. Working on a small number of topics will teach you new skills and ideas, and you might find that the knowledge in one field will help you solve issues in a very different field.
  8. Respect others but do not afraid of disagreeing over a scientific issue. Debates and arguments are part of scientific progress; don’t afraid of being wrong.
  9. Hard work, serendipity and curious naturalist – these are some of the main components of success in science. Research is rarely an easy ride to fame: there are lots of hurdles. Be aware of these hurdles, but don’t lose the objectives out of your sight.
  10. Remember, science is a network of people; you depend on other scientists, peers and junior colleagues at every stage. Even if you are a head of department or director of a research institution, you depend on others in many ways. You need to find a balance between fighting your way up the pecking order whilst en route not losing friends and colleagues. You need to respect your peers, whoever they are from the technician to the student to the administration. By respecting their work and their opinion it is then easier to find the balance between fighting and bonding.

Our Shared Heritage: Arctic Breeding Birds in the Yellow Sea

A great video to bring awareness to the struggles our migratory birds are facing globally, and particularly across the East Asian-Australasian Flyway. Thank you to Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna, Arctic Council and Lab of Ornithology for this Arctic Migratory Birds Initiative video. A Must Watch!

The power of Art for Outreach- knitted birds!

For those that know me outside the academic world, know that I am a hobby-holic. If I can learn how to craft it, can it, tan it or felt it, you are just scraping the surface of what I have tried or will hobby into something. I started this blog as a way to provide some graduate student reference for life, to reach the public about Arctic science and the wonders of the natural world and have now truly discovered the power of using these hobbies and art-outlets, as I call them, to empower the public about awareness to the natural world.

It all truly has started at The Net Loft. No matter where you come from, you are welcome at The Net Loft. A cozy, quaint and enchanting store filled with any fiber, paper and inspiration for creation you can think of. And what makes it that much more of a place to connect with your inner artist, is the people; the staff that are just as passionate about your ideas and projects as you are. Bring in an idea and they help you source materials and references to get you what you need. But aside from the actual making of your craft is the sense of community. Knitting nights, tea with candied pecans (thank you Frances!), motivational support for getting through tougher projects or patterns, and encouragement to try something new. Seeing the wonderful art coming from your neighbors is what makes this place more than just a beautiful store.

The Copper River Delta Birds by Hand Project, through The Net Loft, was something I instantly wanted to be a part of. The project objective was to engage and inform knitters and handcrafters about the wonder of long-distance migratory shorebirds that use the Copper River as a prominent staging area, particularly during spring migration.

Copper River Delta Birds by Hand Project Information

Join the Facebook Group HERE

So knitters could submit any kind of hand made bird to the flock to be put on display at the Cordova Community Center museum. Birds would be individually marked so you could look through our book and find out each bird migration and how and why they made it to Cordova. The color banding scheme followed the Pan American Shorebird Banding Protcol. Leading up to the Festival and Spring migration 2018, birds started to arrive!

In celebration of the Copper River Delta Shorebird Festival we worked for two full days constructing our scene and highlighting each and every hand made bird that was donated or temporarily contributed to the flock. I really enjoyed helping create this display. Our opening event was really well attended, offering snacks and punch and watching as people ‘birded’ and read about where each bird had come from.

Blank canvas in the museum, ready to set up the flock!

 

View from the front for the almost finished display.

A few shorebirds

A map generated to show where each bird came from, coloured by country.

With over 250 birds, it was hard to get them all in one photo.

So for those of you who love birds and want to get involved, follow these links to find out more about contributing a migrant to this flock. Each year it will grow bigger and bigger and everyone is welcome to be a part of this celebration of birds and the Copper River Delta 🙂 Happy Knitting!

 

New Years Resolution for the planet and my progress

It’s 2018. It’s that time of the year where people, like myself, make those New Years Resolutions.What are the most common ones?

Most common New Year’s resolutions

(http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health-fitness/body/common-new-years-resolutions-stick/)

According to a recent ComRes poll, the most common New Year’s resolutions include:

  1. Exercise more (38 per cent)
  2. Lose weight (33 per cent)
  3. Eat more healthily (32 per cent)
  4. Take a more active approach to health (15 per cent)
  5. Learn new skill or hobby (15 per cent)
  6. Spend more time on personal well-being (12 per cent)
  7. Spend more time with family and friends (12 per cent)
  8. Drink less alcohol (12 per cent)
  9. Stop smoking (9 per cent)
  10. Other (1 per cent)

Shocker.

This year my resolutions are not for me but for the environment.

Back in November I attended the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Group meeting in Paracas, Peru. My first time in South America! Though there are several memorable and educational experiences I absorbed from this meeting, there was a poster that from an Argentinian man that has stuck with me. Despite my horridly poor Spanish and his moderately better English (thank goodness), I gleaned something from his work that disturbed me. We all know about the issues of plastic waste. The ‘islands’ of garbage that float around in the ocean. A quick google search gave me these results like the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” or the “Trash Vortex”. Regardless if these islands are myths or exaggerated stories going viral on the internet how can you dispute that there is a lot of plastic waste in the ocean, Trash Vortex or not?

https://wattsupwiththat.com/2015/12/24/are-we-really-choking-the-ocean-with-plastic-tracing-the-creation-of-an-eco-myth/

http://www.dive-the-world.com/newsletter-201510-ocean-plastic.php

 

http://www.transition.hw.ac.uk/event/a-plastic-ocean-documentary-screening/

Image result

It’s horrible and you want to look away. Only a few minutes online looking at wildlife affected by plastic waste was enough to get the blood boiling.

Back to the conference, this gentleman was creating awareness of his own plastic waste struggle. Several cross country rivers drain into the Laguna Mar Chiquita in the Reserva Natural banados de rio dulche. These miles and miles of river carry TONS of waste, depositing right into the lake within a protected reserve. Some of the coolest wildlife exist there. One of which is the Aguatero – Nycticryphes semicollaris.

http://www.fotonat.org/sp.php?sp=324&cat_id=2

Attempting to breed, shorebirds like the Aguatero establish nests right in amongst these piles of plastic bottles, bags and cartons.

He graciously allowed me to take some photos of his poster for reference.

Where does your waste go? When you throw away plastic in your recycle bin and in your trash bin, what happens to it? A teacher once said to me that the problem with garbage is that everyone thinks it’s not theirs. But how can you be so sure?

© Greenpeace

So this year I’m going to eat healthy, sure, but I’m making specific attempts to reduce my waste.

So what could I do that was manageable and not break the bank?

  1. A lot of people are doing this but really make a commitment to reusable bags at the grocery store. Fabric bags for produce, BUY or make your own.
  2. Eliminate the use of plastic bags in any garbage bins in the house that commonly are only dry waste with using newspaper instead:

Substituindo o saco plastico.

This worked but I ended up still putting smaller paper bags into one larger plastic garbage. Not sure if this is the best method. Larger paper bags that you can fold over before placing in the dumpster will work better.

3. Make your own washable tissues. The hankie has been around since the dark ages, but why aren’t we using them more often in the house? So I did a quick serge on these cloth pieces and have a laundry net to hold used hankies to throw in the washer. This waste reduction method over the past few months has greatly reduced household waste but doesn’t reduce plastic waste.

 

4. Eliminate the need for cleaning products with chemicals by using natural options like essential oils and washable cloths. There are several environmentally friendly and safe for the house, children and pets. For example; NORWEX

We use these great cloths for everything from cleaning surfaces, including our dogs, managing spills and dirty floors, dusting, scrubbing, the works. It’s great to reduce waste camping too. Never buy another paper towel again in your life; help reduce waste and safe money.

5. Stash travel mugs at home, in your office and in your car to ensure no matter what time of the day or night you are feeling like a beverage on the go, there is a reusable mug. Trent University had a promotion, FREE coffee and tea for a whole MONTH on campus if you bring your own mug. So get on board and eliminate beverage waste!

6. Compost. If your city or town doesn’t have a compost waste pick up service then just compost in the yard, or even in your house. My lovely and adventurous friend actually has a worm system in her house that composts their family’s waste; aka vermicomposting.

http://www.homecompostingmadeeasy.com/wormcomposting.html

Try one thing to reduce your waste. Those that are making the effort say that they feel empowered and proud of their efforts.

As for plastic reduction, I’m still working on improving my daily choices. One big one has been the use of compost-friendly dog poop bags. For all those dog owners out there, think of all that plastic going straight to the dump or elsewhere…..these are a great alternative.

Earth Rated Poop Bags Refill Rolls Lavender Scented 120ct

Compost-friendly dog poop bags -get them here on Amazon

 

 

THE SUM OF ITS PARTS

As a person who sometimes feels that they are forever in a state of ‘studentness’, there has come a time (or many) that I have asked myself the big question….

And as I tell the grade 3 classes when I give guest talks I tell them that a PhD program means that I am in grade 21. YUP. Grade 21! But really, this current state of learning is a weird place. So what is this big question you ask?

BIG LIFE QUESTION: What is a PhD and what makes one successful at a PhD? Is it finishing with the most papers? Is it the person who finished the fastest or with the most data chapters? Is it the day you accept your piece of paper with your name and the credentials on it?

Speaking at the Shorebird Festival Cordova, Alaska May 2017

The past 3+ years of my life as a PhD student and now PhD Candidate (a status that just means I passed my comprehensive exams and have been titled to be a person that MAY be qualified to accomplish their Doctorate) is that this is a time of pure learning in my life. I embrace the ‘forever state of studentness’. Yes, there are the formalities with supervisors, department requirements, TUITION payments (ick) and just plain paperwork. BUT, my life is more than that. And my PhD is WAY MORE than just my thesis.

Ice skating on a frozen lake at Sheridan Glacier Alaska

Arctic sunset, Southampton Island Nunavut Canada

In fact, the thesis for the doctorate is filled with a condensed version of the science, the condensed, “I figured out how to use this program’ and the classic ‘this section was made possible because I got my r code to work’. But when I think of the person I was day 1 of this program and who I am today; I’m so much more than a 4th year PhD student. I’m a WAY more experienced, confident, social, world explorer! I travel more, I have worked with people from all areas of the world and know many more people from other countries and continents than I ever imagined.

Second Speaker to the famous artist and birder, David Sibley, Shorebird Festival Alaska

I have learned about seasons, tides, and a range of habitats because I ventured out to see them. I work hard but play hard too and I think that this has made me a better student.

Subsistence Lifestyle; halibut fishing, edible plant gathering in early spring Alaska

Flying across barrier islands of the Prince William Sound and Copper River Delta Alaska

Perhaps, admittedly that my supervisors would like me to be stuck in a chair and working 50 hours a week but I would be miserable and maybe not put the heart into the work, like I am doing now. And, as the thesis becomes a longer word document on my laptop (which I should really back up asap!) I grow more than that file.

The thesis is WAY more than the sum of its parts and more than the credit you earn at the end of your name when it’s all over; it’s about becoming a person that will love and cherish their work and show passion and happiness in all areas of their life. I feel like I am becoming ‘Super Me’ and it feels great!

Tourism in Antarctica……dot dot dot

Holger Leue/Lonely Planet Images/Getty

Increased tourism could be contributing to plastic pollution in Antarctica.

So this past week I was sitting on a plane headed to a wedding in Wisconsin. I was sitting next to a guy about my age and after about the first hour or knitting and reading we ended up starting to chat. I found out that he was a project coordinator for some kind of vacation site in Antarctica. At first he mentioned that he spends a lot of time in Antarctica which I immediately thought, ‘cool, what do you study?’ but was disappointed and further confused to find out he didn’t study anything, nor did he help coordinate research at all. People just travel to Antarctica for vacation now……

So I was thinking, hmmm, well if people are going to travel to Antarctica for the all so reasonable price of $25,000 for one week to sit around ice (down from the original price of $45,000) (US funds…..) and the money went towards research and maintaining other camps in Antarctica like the penguin research station (https://www.bas.ac.uk/polar-operations/sites-and-facilities/facility/signy/) that would be great!

At Jerry Kooyman and Paul Ponganis’ field camp at Cape Washington, Antarctica, curious emperor penguins approach.

Credit: Scripps Institution of Oceanography/UC San Diego

So I went online and tried to figure this out. Who is making the profit from these trips? If these organizations are giving back at all and how much? After a little digging and chatting with the staff at a research facility I am visiting currently, we found this:

 

Some places are better left alone. Cruise ships reaching Antarctica and even now crossing the Northwest Passage with increasing frequency will have huge impacts on Inuit communities, noise pollution for wildlife like migrating whales, not to mention the carbon footprint.

Check out this noise pollution TED talk about whales:

 

I have yet to find anything indicating the exact contributions of these companies to research other than the vague statements that a percentage of profits are contributed to research expeditions or that they help with logistics for other research camps….what does that even mean and what percentage are we talking about here?

For the ripe price of $73,000.00 USD for 9 days to see penguins, what do you get? Click the box above the image to enlarge.

You don’t even really need to be in that good a shape to get around with all the catering you get in these conditions……did you know that a huge plane goes into each of these camps every 3 days so the vacationers can have fresh lettuce and homemade fresh baked bread???? But hey, those will be some pretty incredible photos right? So if you MUST MUST travel to Antarctica as a tourist, shop around to the right company with the least negative affects on the environment and the greatest contribution of profits to research. Just like doing research and purchasing products that are better for the environment like coffee and free-range chicken eggs, think twice about who you book your trip with. Or better yet, some places are better left alone and just purchase BBC Planet Earth and BBC Frozen Planet.

http://www.bbcearth.com/shows/frozen-planet/

Other good reads:

http://www.nature.com/news/new-antarctic-iceberg-echoes-old-problem-1.22313?WT.ec_id=NATURE-20170720&spMailingID=54526224&spUserID=MjIzMTk3MDMxMTQ2S0&spJobID=1203043033&spReportId=MTIwMzA0MzAzMwS2

 

What are you doing after grad school? How about be an astronaut?

We all as graduate students get asked this question a lot; by family, friends, future employers, grant committees, scholarship committees, colleagues: “What do you want to do after grad school?”. That dark, heavy looming question that always makes us stop and think in the back of our heads, “I’m just trying to get through this month, let alone the rest of my life”, or “I don’t even know what jobs are out there let alone have a specific one in mind” or my personal favourite, “stop judging me”.

And I’ve been honest on a lot of applications where I answer that I don’t know, that I want these specific things (insert list here) and that I’m willing to venture out of the typical jobs associated with a PhD to try just about any research position out there.

When we were kids we were often told that the sky is the limit and in some cases that may be partially true, and yet it’s really not. Or so I thought. This week I got an email from a work colleague asking me to be a reference for them; something I have done fairly frequently after working with such large research crews and worked on large teams of research scientists in the Arctic. But this was a special request. They wanted me to a reference for the Canadian Space Agency Astronaut program. And seriously, I thought it was spam. Most definitely spam, and I proceeded to email this person to confirm that it was to ensure that I didn’t click on any of the links and get some weird virus taking over my computer. As it turns out, this was a legitimate request.

A fellow research scientist in biology with a doctorate, it eligible and indeed quite a good candidate to be an astronaut. Who would have thought?! And how inspiring when you think about it. Not only am I proud to know this person and believe them to be qualified for many wonderful career paths in this life, but I found myself suddenly very motivated and proud of my accomplishments. I work hard and have acquired though be it somewhat unique skills, they are specialized highly disciplined skills. And at the end of the day I might not know what I want to do after grad school, but the sky is the limit, or even better yet, to ‘infinity and beyond’.

 

 

Identity crisis: greater snow geese altering migratory pathways and following their ‘lesser cousins’

A Hybrid is the result of two species successfully having offspring; one example is the liger, a cross between a tiger and a lion.

http://wildlifewaystation.org/animals/individual/namibia-the-ligress

There are numbers of animals that are a product of two species becoming one; and often an illegitimate one, unable to reproduce. Hybrids in nature are not entirely uncommon, particularly within waterfowl communities.

Here is a Snow Goose, and what is likely a Cackling Goose (subspecies of Canada goose) Someone even blogs about it; http://huntfowl.com/blog/12-rare-waterfowl-hybrids-every-hunter-wishes-theyve-bagged/4/

For subspecies of the Canada Goose see

Arctic Facts: How many kinds of geese are there in the Arctic?

What stressors occur in the environment or individual physiology that would encourage hybridization? How important is this kind of genetic mixing? Is is good, bad, both? I started thinking about these questions when a band recovery came across my desk by email. I covered the hunter’s name to protect his identity but this report indicates a Greater Snow Goose (Chen caerulescens atlantica) was harvested in Arkansas during the Spring Conservation Hunt this past February 2017.

Compare the location of the recovery to the most commonly sourced location for wintering and breeding areas of Greater Snow Geese.

Modified from the map obtained through Canadian Wildlife Federation

So what was this bird doing over there? After consulting with goose biologists much more experienced than myself, I realized that this isn’t the first time a Greater Snow Goose has been harvested so far from their ‘proper’ wintering area. Band recoveries indicate that many individuals have followed their Lesser Snow Goose ‘cousins’ (Chen caerulescens caerulescens) further south west. If you look at the outlier band recoveries for the Greater Snow Goose (map below on left) and compare those to the Lesser (on the right) it would seem those individual Greaters are overlapping in Lesser Snow Goose wintering areas.

 

As Snow Goose numbers increase in North America, a conservation and agriculture nightmare (in some opinions) breeding colonies are merging, expanding and in general becoming closer in proximity to one another on the Arctic tundra. Massive flocks of birds merge in areas heading south. Specifically, there is now a good overlap of contact in the northern part of Foxe Basin and on the northwest end of Baffin Island between the Mid-continent Lesser Snow Geese and Greater Snow Goose population. There is mixing, in particular, of young and failed breeding birds during early migration. “It is likely that this bird and others like it form an association with a bird or birds (flock) from the predominantly Lesser Snow Goose stocks and then follow them to the mid-continent wintering areas.“-Snow Goose Biologist. It is also unknown if there is direct mixing between individuals with Lessers and Greaters producing young.

Overlapping or even direct mixing of these species could mean several things; including extensions of the wintering areas between the two species, hybridization, and with that alterations in behaviour. We don’t currently know the long term consequences of these geese mixing but it definitely highlights the importance of banding operations and long term research studies, particularly in the Arctic.

 

 

 

To get to the other side: finishing the doctoral thesis

I am 1 year and 3 months away from my thesis dissertation and defense deadline; the finishing of the PhD. For those in pursuit or were formerly in pursuit of their PhD, you know the feeling of that looming deadline and the intangible and yet intimidating amount of work you still need to do. Though on the other hand, I love objectives, goals, a list of things to do and thus a deadline. These parameters are what bring structure to my day and motivate me to get on that computer and crunch numbers, build my ideas and tease through the enormous pile of peer-reviewed literature. In my opinion, a little fear behind missing a deadline ends up being my strength.

Don’t get me wrong, the thesis is a process and one that I have relished over the past 3 years. Truly, my education has been and is a privilege that I don’t take lightly nor resent in any way. The past year alone has been one of the best years of my life and without the opportunities of my education; none of it would have happened. But I get this feeling that the fourth and final year of a PhD is the hardest and one where most students will waiver in their productivity and motivations.

left to right: Brandan Norman, Gill Holmes and Kevin Young. Southampton Island Nunavut 2015

So how am I planning on organizing my time and tackling my objectives over the next year and a bit? Well, for starters I opted to not be a teaching assistant. Surveying those that have come before me, I asked them what they thought was the biggest reason why PhD students didn’t finish on time and the main response was that teaching eats up too much time and prevents students from having nice chunky blocks of time to just immerse themselves in data analysis and writing. DONE. So I don’t make as much money; in the end, if you go over your 4-year time, you end up paying tuition anyways so really are you making THAT much money? Secondly, I write things as I go. Not that this has proven from start to finish that I’ll finish on time but I know I saved myself a lot of digging by just writing thoughts down, referencing works and statements from those papers that are applicable and inserted them into the section or chapter it will eventually end up in. This file is titled, “First ever thesis draft.outline”. It’s kind of an interesting file of finished pages, finished paragraphs but many bullets containing a smattering of content. This file is 55 pages long. As the content grows and those page numbers increase, it helps alleviate the overwhelming feeling as I proceed to write the longest document I will have written in my life and perhaps will ever.

So far I have found this book really helpful.

I know finishing this monster, the thing they call ‘the thesis’ on time is ambitious. I won’t be punishing myself for not finishing on time but at some point we students need to finish what we started and move on with our lives, enter the work force and start using those skills we’ve worked so hard to build. I look forward to seeing all of us on the other side.

Skinny polar bears and my first-hand account of Climate Change

I saw a polar bear in a zoo once. When I was a lot younger. I remember thinking, “huh, he isn’t doing anything, he is just lying there. This is kind of cool but kind of boring.” What I didn’t know then was this bear in the zoo was very fat; likely over-fed. He was healthy and also probably bored out of his mind. But healthy none-the-less. I’m constantly learning about our Arctic system and about the wildlife that live there and polar bears in the Arctic are neither over-fed, nor boring. Yes, polar bears sleep a lot but they are not boring.

A resting polar bear.

In 2010, Smith and colleagues published a paper on polar bear diets and how they are changing. These research scientists report that polar bears are seen earlier during the summer more and more in association with early ice break up. We all know the climate change stories indicating warming temperatures affecting ice and this ice break up forces polar bears hunting for seals to come ashore. These bears are having their hunting season cut short, and well, they are not over-fed and are looking for food. Arctic-breeding birds such as Common Eider and several goose and gull species fall subject to predation as bears travel nest to nest eating eggs. It can have devastating effects on reproduction for colony nesting birds. The scary part is that these observations reported in this 2010 paper were seen back as far as the year 2000, and frequency of observations have been continuously growing for the past 16 years.

Sow and her cub crossing the Nunavut Tundra, July 2016. Photo credit: Lena Ware

Evidence of climate change has been witnessed by hundreds of thousands of people, in many different ways. Severe weather events such as hurricanes causing flooding, or expansive uncontrolled forest fires alter the lives of people forever. This summer I witnessed climate change first hand for the first time. I saw skinny polar bears.

Bear print in the goose colony, Southampton Island Nunavut July 2016. Photo credit: Kevin Young
Bear print in the goose colony, Southampton Island Nunavut July 2016. Photo credit: Kevin Young

Now, what does a skinny polar bear even look like? I didn’t know a lot about bear ecology nor about their physiology. I was lucky to spend some time with biologists actually studying polar bears and bombarded them with questions. Belly fat on a healthy bear coming inland from a winter of eating seals should be 3 or more inches thick. From far away it would be hard to tell how thick a bear’s belly fat is, but one researcher told me a healthy walking bear should jiggle like a massive ton of Jello.

“Southampton Island (Nunavut), now hosts 940,000 nesting geese. Hungry polar bears are finding their eggs. In 2004, on the Bay of God’s Mercy, a long polar bear over the course of two weeks, consumed the entire contents of 400 goose nests. In 2006, the field team at Coats Island watched bears systematically ransacking a goose colony, targeting nests, devouring eggs. In 2010, James Leafloor from Environment Canada, conducted an aerial survey of nesting geese on Southampton and Coats Islands, counting ‘about 29 polar bears, many of them in snow goose colonies, far inland from the coast’. A summer diet of Arctic char and berries has proven no substitute for ringed seals. Polar bears may kill a ringed seal between one and three times a week. It’s hard to imagine how tiny goose eggs, no matter how plentiful or rich in protein and fat, can fully substitute for 100-pound ringed seals and their blubbery pups, compensate for a seal hunt now reducing each year, or offer a long-term reprieve for animals turned toward extinction as the sea ice retreats. Karyn Rode from the U.S. Geological Survey and her colleagues, analyzing this question from previous studies across the Arctic, are finding that based on data in western Hudson Bay, bird eggs might best offset only a day or two of time bears now lose foraging at sea.” -Deborah Cramer in her book; The Narrow Edge, Chapter 11 pg 198.

The beginnings of a Cackling goose nest. Photo credit: Lisa Kennedy
The beginnings of a Cackling goose nest. Photo credit: Lisa Kennedy

It’s obvious that eggs are not the solution for hungry bears and it’s a bit unnerving that such an iconic animal for North Americans and both resource-based and spiritual symbol for northern Inuit is in trouble. As a graduate student still learning about the Arctic environment and pursuing research, I found myself struck by the evidence of changing ice conditions and the impact it can have on polar bears. I read about it, saw it on the news and heard about at conferences, but it never really seemed as real than when I witnessed it firsthand. It will and has secured my pursuit as a biologist indefinitely.

Photo credit: Kevin Young
Photo credit: Kevin Young