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Re-establishment of an extinct breeding colony of Brünnich’s Guillemot Uria lomvia in West Greenland

David Boertmann* ORCID logo

1 Department of Ecoscience, Aarhus University, Frederiksborgvej 399, DK-4000 Roskilde Denmark.

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The breeding population of Brünnich’s Guillemot Uria lomvia in South and West Greenland has been decreasing for decades and some colonies have even disappeared (Merkel et al. 2014). Among these was one of the largest colonies, Salleq in Uummannaq Fjord (70°96’N 52°25’W; Figure 1), which was estimated at half a million birds in c. 1920 (Bertelsen 1921) and 150,000 birds in 1949 (Salomonsen 1950). These figures are most likely overestimations (Falk & Kampp 1997), but there is no doubt that the colony was among the largest in West Greenland. The colony then drastically decreased in size until 1975, when only 4,500 birds were counted (Falk & Kampp 1997). In 1984, there were only 150 individuals present and all were observed on the water below the cliff. In 1987, 50 birds were observed on the cliff without evidence of breeding, and the site was completely deserted by 1990 (Evans & Kampp 1991).

The same fate was recorded for Black-legged Kittiwakes Rissa tridactyla (hereafter ‘Kittiwakes’) and Razorbills Alca torda. The former declined from around 10,000 pairs in 1949, to 800 nests in 1975 and to zero in 1994 (F. Salomonsen unpublished; Boertmann et al. 1996). Razorbills declined from a few pairs in 1949 and 1975 to zero in 1994 (Boertmann et al. 1996). However, no population changes have been recorded for the Northern Fulmars Fulmarus glacialis which breed in huge numbers on the cliff.

The decline and extinction of the Salleq Brünnich’s Guillemot colony in the decades after the Second World War was primarily caused by excessive hunting during spring. Fleischer (1994), the former editor of a Greenlandic newspaper, described how in the 1930s it was common in spring, when sea ice still covered the waters, to camp below the Salleq cliff and hunt hundreds of Brünnich’s Guillemots in a day. This occurred every spring, and people would travel from afar to participate in this hunt. This high hunting pressure was reflected in a higher recovery rate of ringed birds from Salleq in comparison to colonies in other parts of West Greenland (Kampp 1991). Naturally, the colony could not sustain such hunting pressure across multiple decades, and eventually disappeared. Another factor impacting the Brünnich’s Guillemot populations in West Greenland was bycatch by an extensive offshore drift net fishery for Atlantic Salmon Salmo salar, which peaked around 1970 and stopped in 1976 (Falk & Durinck 1991).


This work was part of a regional background study programme initiated and funded by the Environmental Agency for Mineral Resource Activities (Greenland Government). Morten Frederiksen is thanked for fruitful discussions when writing this note and thanks is also extended to Paaluk Kreutzmann, Uummannaq Seasafaris, for sharing his knowledge, observations, and photos. Two anonymous reviewers improved the manuscript considerably.


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