For Immediate Release, April 9, 2009
Contact: Shaye Wolf, (415) 632-5301 or (415) 385-5746 (cell)
State of Alaska Denies Protection to Critically Endangered Seabird:
Palin Administration Ignores Science in Denying State
Endangered Species Act Protection to Kittlitz's Murrelet
ANCHORAGE, Alaska— Today the Alaska Department of Fish and Game denied a petition to protect the imperiled Kittlitz’s murrelet under Alaska’s Endangered Species Act. This Alaska seabird is declining precipitously due to threats from global warming, oil pollution, and fisheries-bycatch mortality that have placed it on a trajectory to extinction.
On March 5, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a scientific petition with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to place the Kittlitz’s murrelet on the state list of endangered species. Today the commissioner of the Department of Fish and Game rejected the petition, claiming that there is “insufficient information” to determine that numbers of Kittlitz’s murrelets have decreased to a level that threatens the survival of the species. However, scientific studies clearly show that the species is threatened with extinction.
Kittlitz’s murrelet population numbers have plummeted by 80 to 90 percent in the past 20 years across the core areas of its range, from Glacier Bay to Prince William Sound. Based on these declines, the World Conservation Union, the international authority on endangered species, listed the Kittlitz’s murrelet as critically endangered. An organization of seabird scientists with expertise on the Kittlitz’s murrelet concluded that it may be extirpated within the next two decades in core areas of the range if current trends continue.
“The state of Alaska has chosen to sit on its hands and allow the Kittlitz’s murrelet to slide toward extinction rather than providing it with needed protections,” said Shaye Wolf, a seabird biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Palin administration’s active refusal to protect Alaska’s imperiled wildlife from the Kittlitz’s murrelet to the polar bear to the Cook Inlet beluga whale jeopardizes our nation’s natural heritage, ignores the science, and denies reality.”
The Kittlitz’s murrelet suffers from a range of threats at sea and on land, foremost of which is global warming. 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 murrelet’s dependence on glacially influenced waters makes it highly vulnerable to global warming. The dramatic retreat and thinning of Alaska’s coastal glaciers due to global warming is reducing the Kittlitz’s murrelet foraging habitat. As coastal glaciers melt away, Kittlitz’s murrelet populations in Alaska have plummeted.
The Kittlitz’s murrelet is also 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.
Kittlitz’s murrelets heavily use Alaska state waters and lands for foraging and nesting. State protections reducing threats to the Kittlitz’s murrelet from marine oil spills and unsustainable bycatch in gillnet fisheries in Alaska’s coastal waters would aid in reversing its decline toward extinction.
“For the Palin administration to claim that there is ‘insufficient information’ to conclude that the Kittlitz’s murrelet is declining is equivalent to saying there is insufficient information to conclude the earth is round,” said Wolf. “This decision defies science, reason, and the law.”
The Kittlitz’s murrelet also has not yet received the critical protections of the 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 Act, and in 2004 the Service determined that the Kittlitz’s murrelet warranted protection but was “precluded” from listing, effectively denying this species any protections.
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.