Ivory gull (Pagophila eburnea)

Ivory Gull in Svalbard
Photo: Stein Ø. Nilsen / Norwegian Polar Institute

The ivory gull is a high-Arctic species that is associated with ice-filled waters throughout the year. The species is found in north-eastern Canada, Greenland, Svalbard and Russia. The global breeding population is estimated at approximately 14,000 pairs. The species finds its food at the edges of drift ice, but it can also exploit the remains of polar bear prey. In Svalbard, the ivory gull nests in relatively small, scattered colonies, mainly in the east of Spitsbergen, on Barentsøya and on Nordaustlandet. Monitoring of the breeding population in Svalbard shows an annual decline of about 3a year since monitoring started in 2009.

What is being monitored?

The number of breeding pairs of ivory gulls in Svalbard

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Development of the ivory gull population in 32 selected colonies, stated as a percentage of the average for the entire monitoring period. Monitoring of ivory gulls in Svalbard shows a decline in the breeding population of approximately 3% per year. The decline is seen in the context of the decline in the species' primary habitat – sea ice.

Status and trend

Monitoring of ivory gulls in Svalbard shows a decline in the breeding population of approximately 3% per year since 2009. This trend is considered to be serious, given the population size of the species and its limited global distribution. However, the time series is short (10 years) and we lack basic knowledge about the species' biology. Caution should therefore be exercised in interpreting the data series. The decline in Svalbard is in line with similar trends in Canada and Greenland, where the species is also in decline.

Causal factors

The decline in the breeding population is seen in the context of an ongoing reduction in the species' primary habitat – sea ice – and high levels of environmental toxins. However, the direct links are unclear. A decline of 80% has been documented in the Canadian breeding population. The species has also disappeared from the southernmost breeding grounds in Greenland.

Consequences

About the monitoring

The ivory gull is monitored because the species is vulnerable to climate change and because such high levels of environmental toxins have been found that they could have an effect on the population size. The species is also classified as vulnerable in the Red List for Svalbard. The ivory gull is considered an ice-dependent species because it finds most of its food in the drift ice and remains in ice-filled waters throughout the year.

Places and areas

Monitoring is performed in 32 selected nesting colonies spread along the eastern side of Spitsbergen from Hornsund to Sorgfjorden, on Barentsøya  and on Nordaustlandet.

Relations to other monitoring

Monitoring programme
International environmental agreements
Voluntary international cooperation
Related monitoring