For Immediate Release, March 5, 2009
Contact: 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 coastal waters.
“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,” said Wolf.
More information on the Kittlitz’s murrelet and the petition is available at
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 200,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.