Winter Ecology of Stellers Eiders and Other Seaducks in western Alaska
Declines in the breeding population of Steller's eiders (STEI) in Alaska have resulted in its listing of as threatened under the provisions of the Endangered Species Act. Exposure to petroleum-based hydrocarbons from boating or fishing activities and accidental oil spills is cause for concern at wintering areas of STEI in Alaska. Thus, the wintering activity and habitat selection of STEI may offer a unique opportunity to investigate the possible correlation between contaminants and effects on wildlife. Much of the world's populations of these eiders winter in shallow, near-shore waters of the eastern Aleutian Islands. Many of these waters have substantial maritime industry and transportation activities and therefore the potential for elevated concentrations of hydrocarbons. Fish-processing plants also discharge wastewater into some of these harbors, possibly confounding problems created by petroleum spillage. A large proportion of the fish waste discharge is lipid-based, organic material from discarded fish matter, and some commercial fish species contain organochlorine contaminants. Fish-processing wastes are discharged into the shallow, near-shore waters at both Dutch harbor and Sand Point, and this habitat is preferred by wintering STEI. Observations by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) and USGS biologists indicated that STEI roost and feed near discharge plumes from fish-processing plants at Dutch Harbor, located within Unalaska Bay. It is plausible that eiders are being exposed to organic contaminants associated with fish processing wastes.
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