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Hunting decimates Greenland's seabirds

?seabird colonies in most of Greenland are declining, or have been exterminated?

A new study published in the journal of the Danish Ornithological Society (DOF, BirdLife in Denmark) documents that birds in west Greenland have undergone a severe decline within the last 100 years. Shockingly, one formerly common breeding species, the Thick-billed Murre, can no longer be found.

The survey was carried out in the Uummannaq area of Greenland - 12,000 sq km bordered by the Greenland Ice Cap to the east and Baffin Bay to the west. In this intricate system of fjords, bays and islands, Tom Cade, Kurt and Bill Burnham of the Peregrine Fund revisited more than 207 sites to count the birds and compare the findings with those of the Danish doctor and ornithologist, Alfred Bertelsen, almost 100 years before.

The results were significant. Eight species that were common 100 years ago have seen major declines. The most dramatic is that of the Thick-billed Murre Uria lomvia (also known as Brunnich's Guillemot), whose numbers have fallen from 500,000 pairs in eight colonies to none.Black-legged Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla, Razorbill Alca torda, Common Eider Somateria mollissima and Gyrfalcon Falco rusticolus have also suffered severe losses. The birds that do remain are now located at the maximum distance from human settlements.

"We are facing a biological collapse," says Christian Hjorth, Chairman of DOF. "The Eider has traditionally been one of the most important quarry species in Greenland, and it is a severe threat to this species that regulations on hunting and egg collecting are not generally observed. Apart from this, there seems to be a general threat from the practice of placing free-ranging sledge dogs on islands, which prevent both Eiders and Arctic Terns from breeding on these islands. Summer hunting of the Thick-billed Murre, which is another traditional quarry, was not abolished until 1988, causing severe decline in the population. And illegal hunting continues during the breeding season."Human activities vastly increased in this part of Greenland during the 20th Century with a four-fold population increase. Nowadays most hunters have speedboats to hunt from, meaning that bird cliffs, previously at safe distance from human settlements, can be easily reached by hunters on an evening trip.

Christian Hjorth continues: "International pressure has caused the Greenland Home Rule to tighten regulations, but policing and law-abiding is generally poor. The result is that seabird colonies in most of Greenland are declining, or have been exterminated like in Uummannaq."

4th July 2014