21 February 2008

Historic Ivory Gull Occurrence in the Arctic, 1820-1858

An iconic bird of the Arctic north is the Ivory Gull. Distinctively white and obviously appreciated when seen, it been noted in the great northern region during more than two centuries.

Arctic Zoology provides the first report, its occurrence in Greenland, corresponding to the Davis Strait area of British mariners.

A large set of expedition records from 1820 through 1858, started with the Parry, William Edward Parry voyage of discovery of a north-west passage, performed in 1819-1820 with the H.M.S. Hecla and H.M.S. Griper.

The following are the other known notations for the species, with their locality as given in the chronicles. Most of the latter records from the Arctic voyages carried out during the great period of searching for Sir John Franklin.

These records of known occurrence are based on a review of more than 500 narrative sources prior to ca. 1855...

Winter Harbour - 5/24/1820 - two ivory gulls, Larus Eburneus, were reported to have been seen

Hooper's Island - 6/12/1820 - an ivory gull

Griffith Island - 8/29/1820 - one or two ivory gulls

Cape Liverpool - 8/31/1820 - ivory-gulls

Atkinson Island - 7/13/1826 - ivory gull

Lancaster Sound - 8/8/1829 - some of the ivory gulls. This reference included a species account:

24. - Larus Eburneus, Ivory Gull.
Although extremely numerous in Baffin's Bay, and frequently met with during our former voyages in the vicinity of Port Bowen, one of its breeding-places, yet few were seen by us after passing to the southward of that part of Prince Regent's Inlet; and only one specimen was obtained.
This beautiful species of gull has lately visited the western shores of Ireland.

Another summary account was available in 1831.

Larus eburneus. (Linn.) Ivory Gull.
This beautiful Gull frequents Davis's straits, Baffin's Bay, and various parts of the northern shores of the American continent. We observed it breeding in great numbers on the high perforated cliffs which form the extremity of Cape Parry, in latitude 700. It attends the whale fishery to prey on blubber.
Fauna Boreali-Americana; or the Zoology of the Northern Parts of British America: ... Part Second, the Birds. By William Swainson and John Richardson, M.D.

Point Keats - 8/16/1848 - two ivory gulls, who were very clamorous when any one approached their nest; the young had ash-grey backs, and were nearly fledged

Some interesting natural history is given with the journal of H.M.S. Lady Franklin with H.M.S. Sophia on the 1850-1851 arctic voyage.

June 21st: ... "two species of the genus Merlangus are distributed very extensively over Davis Strait, and the adjoining Polar Seas. They generally swim close to the surface of the ice, and when disturbances take place among it, they are not unfrequently left dry on the floes, ready to become an easy prey to such birds as the ivory gull (Larus eburneus), which always frequents localities where the ice is suffering from pressure. I have often seen thse birds picking among the newly turned-up ice, as well as at the edge of the ice that may have not shifted its position; and I have often examined the contents of their stomachs, and visited the localities frequented by them, and hardly ever failed to find the above remark fully corroborated." - journal of Peter C. Sutherland

Melville Bay - 7/10/1850 - a few ivory gulls, perching on the hummocks; 7/13/1850 - ivory gulls; seen for the first time today; decidedly the most graceful of sea-birds; exquisite purity of their plumage hard to detect when on snow or ice

"It is not at all probable that the ivory-gull feeds upon such highly developed animal tissues as that of the cetacea; fish, and perhaps also crustacea, picked up among the ice, seem solely to constitute its food."

Griffith's Island - 9/5/1850 - ivory gull, a solitary traveler, occasionally flitted by us

Wellington Channel - 6/2/1851 - ivory gulls

Cornwallis Land - 6/10/1851 - ivory gull

Cape Hotham - 6/13/1851 - ivory gulls; Cape Hotham - 6/19/1851 - in the cliffs at Cape Hotham, ivory gulls

Rensselaer Harbor - 6/18/1854 - saw also an ivory-gull

Cape Andrew Jackson - 6/21/1854 - ivory gulls were seen further on

Cape Constitution - 6/23/1854 - clamor of half a dozen ivory gulls, who were frightened from their sheltered nooks

Hans Island - 7/11/1854 - have seen the ivory gull, the most beautiful and snowy St. Agnes of the ice fields, seize our wounded auks, and, after a sharp battle, carry them off in her talons

Ponds Bay - 7/10/1858 - shot three ivory gulls

These records are a basis of the historic knowledge for this remarkable gull species.

Norwegian-Russian Project on the Ivory Gull

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