Gull Island, Kachemak Bay

Gull Island, Kachemak Bay

by | May 23, 2023

Gull Island is about 633 feet (193 m) long and 93 feet (28 m) high and is situated about 0.6 miles (1 km) northwest of Moosehead Point near the entrance to Peterson Bay on the southeast shore of Kachemak Bay, and about 17 miles (27 km) northeast of Seldovia and 8 miles (13 km) southeast of Homer, Alaska. The island was named in 1895 for a seabird colony by William H. Dall with the U.S. Geological Survey. The island is mostly bedrock representing the McHugh Complex that developed between the Triassic and Early Cretaceous and consists of basalt and chert. The basalt is pillowed and overlain by complexly folded and faulted radiolarian chert. This rugged island hosts one of the most productive seabird colonies in the Gulf of Alaska when, in recent years, other colonies have experienced widespread reproductive failure. Despite the island’s small size, it has a large and diverse seabird population. Both Gull Island and nearby Sixty Foot Rock were in the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge until 1987 when they were conveyed to the Seldovia Native Association.

The archaeological record has shown that for thousands of years seabirds have been an important food resource, especially in the spring before the arrival of spawning fish. All of the coastal Alaska Native cultures have engaged in seabird hunting and egg collecting, and nesting colonies were part of traditional territories. The meat and eggs were eaten and sometimes traded. Bird skins were also used to make clothing and food storage bags, beaks and feathers were used to ornament regalia, and bones were fashioned into needles, tubes, and whistles. Seabirds were hunted throughout the year with bird darts and throwing boards, or with snares, bows and arrows, bolas or nets. Bag nets, long poles or multi-pronged spears were sometimes used along the water’s surface. Some cultures would climb cliffs or lower themselves down to obtain seabirds and eggs from nests in rookeries. Some villages would organize boat trips to nearby islands to hunt seabirds during the molting period when birds were temporarily unable to fly. The eggs were eaten both fresh and preserved in seal oil. In 1916, these traditional practices ended when the Migratory Bird Treaty, the first of several international treaties, was enacted to control the decline of bird populations due to commercial hunting in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The intent was to protect migratory birds by prohibiting hunting and egg collecting during the spring and summer and still allow for variable levels of fall sports hunting.

Gull Island has a thin cover of soil that mostly supports cow parsnip and stinging nettle. The main island and two smaller islets, locally called Murre Rock and Gorilla Rock, provide nesting habitat for pelagic cormorants and red-faced cormorants, glaucous-winged gulls, black-legged kittiwakes, common murres, pigeon guillemots, horned puffins, and tufted puffins. Most of the murres breed on Murre Rock and glaucous-winged gulls nest on the main island. Gorilla Rock is used mostly by roosting gulls and cormorants. Gull Island is the third largest seabird colony in Cook Inlet and one of the most productive. This is most likely due to the remote location with minimal predation, and proximity to an abundance of forage fishes such as capelin, walleye pollock and Pacific sand lance. As many as 20,000 seabirds build nests in the craggy rock faces and cliffs of Gull Island. In most years, up to 10,000 black-legged kittiwakes will dominate the rookery, building mud nests perched in clefts and on ledges. Over 5,000 common murres will nest amid the kittiwakes. Bald eagles will hunt here and when these predators dive toward the colony, the effect is a chaotic cacophony as thousands of birds take wing at once. The Seldovia Native Corporation restricts access and the public is not allowed onshore. The use of remote cameras for viewing the birds was pioneered by the Pratt Museum in Homer. View the seabird cam here. Read more here and here. Explore more of Gull Island and Kachemak Bay here:

About the background graphic

This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2022 (bottom). Each stripe represents the average global temperature for one year. The average temperature from 1971-2000 is set as the boundary between blue and red. The color scale goes from -0.7°C to +0.7°C. The data are from the UK Met Office HadCRUT4.6 dataset. 

Credit: Professor Ed Hawkins (University of Reading). Click here for more information about the #warmingstripes.

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