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The study of one bird, 43 years in the making

Joe McNally
Mandt’s Black Guillemots";

This story originally aired on February 17, 2018.

George Divoky is a scientist in Seattle, at least most of the year. But don’t expect to find him around here during the summertime.

He’ll be on a small, flat little island in the Arctic Ocean, off the Alaska coast, called Cooper Island. Back in 1975, Divoky was doing survey work there, when he came across a colony of arctic birds called Mandt’s Black Guillemots. They’re little pigeon-sized birds with bright red legs, and they’re one of the few seabird species that depend year-round on sea ice.

“It was very interesting and very unique to find this colony. And I went back to the colony a number of times that summer ... never thought that I would see it again, never thought that I would essentially spend the next 45 years of my life on that island,” Divoky said.

Over the years, the importance of his research became clearer: these birds are perfect indicators of the warming climate.

Since discovering the colony, Divoky has not missed a summer on that island. And for the majority of those summers, the only occupants have been Divoky and the birds.

Divoky will be speaking about his work on March 26, 2019 at Seattle's Sweedish Club.