Protection Island Research

Protection Island National Wildlife Refuge contains the largest colony of marine birds and mammals in Washington State – some 80,000 marine birds and several hundred harbor seals breed here. Each spring the Seabird Ecology Team, consisting of Jim Hayward, Research Professor of Biology, Shandelle Henson, Professor and Chair of the Department of Mathematics, and several students, travel to Protection Island to gather data on the lives of island residents. Recent findings include 1) numbers of seabirds and marine mammals in various habitats can be accurately predicted using mathematical models based on environmental variables such as time of day and height of tide; 2) most gulls nesting on the island are not “pure” glaucous-winged gulls but are glaucous-winged x western gull hybrids; 3) the ovulation cycles of female gulls that nest close to one another synchronize, much like the menstrual cycles of women who work or live closely together; and 4) egg cannibalism by gulls increases in response to higher sea surface temperatures, a result with implications for the impact of climate change on seabird populations. In addition to their biological studies, Hayward and Henson are beginning to decipher the geologic history of Protection Island in conjunction with geologists Bob Cushman of Walla Walla University and Roy Jensen of Hart Crowser, Inc., a consulting firm in Seattle. Research on Protection Island is funded by grants from the National Science Foundation and the Andrews University Office of Research and Creative Scholarship, with collaboration and logistic support from Rosario Beach Marine Laboratory and the University of Arizona.   


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