Wildlife Acoustics Blog

Listening for Signs of Life: A case study on using acoustic monitoring to assess remote seabird populations

Biologist Luke Halpin

Biologist Luke Halpin:

“My research takes place in Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve and Haida. Heritage Site in Haida Gwaii, an island archipelago off the west coast of British Columbia, 80km west of Prince Rupert. Haida Gwaii is home to 1.5 million breeding seabirds, including 50% of the global Ancient Murrelet population and large nesting populations of several other seabird species. Haida Gwaii is the only breeding location for Ancient Murrelets in Canada.

On Haida Gwaii, invasive rats are a major threat to the conservation of these seabird populations. In 2010, Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site began a large rat-eradication project called Night Birds Returning (SGin Xaana Sdiihltl’lxa, in the Haida Language) on a number of islands. As a component of this project, I used Song Meters to explore presence and relative abundance of four seabird species on rat-infested and rat-free islands. The species I examined, in collaboration with Dr Carita Bergman, Terrestrial Ecologist in the Parks Canada Agency, includes Ancient Murrelets Synthliboramphus antiquus, Cassin’s Auklets Ptychoramphus aleuticus, Fork-tailed Storm-Petrels Oceanodroma furcata and Leach’s Storm-Petrels Oceanodroma leucorhoa."

Research Process

“I used the Song Meter acoustic data to assess the effect of rat presence on relative abundance of these nocturnal seabirds. I examined relative abundance and the seasonal colony attendance period from presence and absence data derived from the Song Meter acoustic recordings.

Somewhat surprisingly, my results showed that rats had not completely extirpated seabirds and that some seabird breeding may be occurring on the rat-infested islands.

My results suggest that seabird recovery could occur more rapidly following rat-eradication on these islands, compared to islands where rats have completely extirpated seabirds. Song Meters were a great way to monitor seabirds on this remote island archipelago, over a large area and where site access can be extremely challenging.”

Our interview with Luke Halpin

How long have you been using Song Meters for your research?

I started using Song Meters in 2010 to detect birds and study the attendance patterns of Ashy Storm-Petrels. Using acoustic recorders is a great way to survey nocturnal seabirds in their terrestrial breeding colonies. Most nocturnal seabirds have uniquely identifiable vocal behavior, which makes them ideal candidates for acoustic monitoring studies. I initially became interested in using acoustic devices to monitor seabirds because of the difficulties and expenses associated with studying them the traditional way.

Which models have you used?

I have been using SM2 models, but I am excited to use the new and improved SM3. It looks a lot easier to deploy in the field and appears to have a lot less room for user error.

What is your favorite bird species?

Personally, I love the storm-petrels (various species).They are experts in flying and foraging on the open ocean. When on land their vocal behavior can be quite entertaining. They have a very peculiar smell, and when in the hand they will often release a drop of fishy oil.

If you could study any other animal, what would it be?

If I wasn't an ornithologist, I'd study reptiles. Reptiles are fascinating. When I was a kid, as well as keeping birds, I used to keep rat snakes, corn snakes and milk snakes as pets!

Give us a fun fact about yourself!

For a while I lived on Skomer Island, a large Manx Shearwater colony off the west coast of Wales, UK. Some of my colleagues started to call me Luke Shearwater as a play on Luke Skywalker!

Finally, any amusing stories from being in the field?

The Canadian Coast Guard Service once helped me to deploy my Song Meters on islands when the weather was bad. The boat I was in wasn't really suitable for the weather conditions at the time. The Coast Guard saved the day and made it possible for me to get to my remote study sites in the Haida Gwaii Archipelago. I was very grateful for their help!

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