Flame retardants found in Arctic gulls


A recent study has discovered a range of contaminants in the glaucous gull population in Canada’s eastern Arctic.

The study was conducted near the predominantly Inuit community of Cape Dorset in Canada’s Nunavut territory.

New contaminates such as flame retardants were found in the birds along with older contaminants such as mercury and chlorine.

“High concentrations of flame retardants will be found in animals mostly from temperate areas, from industrialized areas,” said scientist Jonathan Verreault, holder of the Canada research chair in comparative avian toxicology and a professor at Université du Québec à Montréal.

“But the thing is that they are volatile compounds meaning that they can reach the atmospheric current and get to the Arctic through air current but also through oceanic current.”

For more on what gulls can tell us about pollutants in the North and how contaminant levels in the Canadian Arctic compare to other circumpolar countries, I spoke with scientist Jonathan Verreault. 

To listen to our conversation, click here

Responsible for population decline?

Next, scientists want to examine what effect the contaminants are having on the gulls’ long term health and breeding. In some Arctic gull populations, colonies have declined by 50 per cent.

“We cannot say right now if the contamination level is linked to the decline in the glaucous gull population we’ve observed in past years,” said Verreault. “But this was a first step at least in screening those contaminants.”

For more on what gulls can tell us about pollutants in the North and how contaminant levels in the Canadian Arctic compare to other circumpolar countries, Eye on the Arctic’s Eilís Quinn spoke with scientist Jonathan Verreault.

Quick Facts - Glaucous Gulls
  • Found in Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Northern Europe and Russia
  • Breeds in regions across the High Arctic
  • Feeds on everything from fish, eggs and chicks, to adult birds and small mammals
  • Nests found in sea cliffs, open tundra, islands, lakes and ponds

Related Links:

Is mercury harming foxes in the Russian Arctic?, Eye on the Arctic

How does a warming climate boost toxic metals in Arctic foods?, CBC News

Jonathan Verreault, Canada Research Chairs

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project. Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying a culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

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