In what could help secure the future of the threatened Steller’s eider in the North Pacific, the biological team at the Alaska SeaLife Center has successfully bred a pair of the rare sea ducks at the research facility in Seward.
The single duckling may be the first Steller’s eider ever produced in captivity in North America, according to a story posted by the center.
Once plentiful in Arctic and western Alaska, Steller’s eiders were listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act after their numbers plunged for unknown reasons. There might be only a few hundred breeding adults left on Alaska’s North Slope outside Barrow, and only a few score haunting the tundra of Western Alaska.
Since the early 2000s, SeaLife center biologists have been studying behavior, physiology and genetics of Steller’s eiders and the equally threatened spectacled eiders in a special habitat built on the center’s outside deck overlooking Resurrection Bay. The center’s ambitious eider program took an approach similar to the center’s study of marine mammals — unlock the physiological secrets of endangered critters by studying them in natural enclosures.
While the spectacled eiders came from breeders in the lower 48, the Steller’s eiders had to be captured out in the Aleutian Chain near Unalaska. From the first, the birds were more skittish and it was clear they would adapt well enough to breed.
“This successful event shows that we have the capability of breeding Steller’s eiders in captivity at the SeaLife Center facility,” says University of Alaska Fairbanks/Alaska SeaLife Center Eider Program Manager, Dr. Tuula Hollmen, in the Sealife story.
“We have taken one big step forward in developing methods and capacity to support recovery efforts for this species.”