The First Week of Summer Tells of the Catastrophe Unfolding

by Barry Kent MacKay,
Senior Program Associate

Born Free USA’s Canadian Representative

07/03/18

Ring-billed gull.
By Crisco 1492 [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons

Hundreds of baby ring-billed gulls tumbled from rooftops, facing certain death, just as summer arrived. An intense heatwave arrived too, with projections by meteorologists that 2018 would be the hottest year on record. A new study came out reporting that bad news for anther gull species, the Heermann’s gull. Finally, a friend of mine, a bear biologist, had his paper outlining declines in the southernmost population of polar bears published.The same week all of this was happening, I was still hearing how the American president remained in denial about global climate change. We call it that because the deniers can’t get their heads around the idea that global “warming” does not mean that there are no cold days or record-breaking cold spells. I suspect the only polar bear Donald Trump may have seen would be in a zoo or maybe in his son’s trophy room, and yet he says they’ve never been in better shape. Of course, he lies – continually, I know – but why do people believe him?

As reported here on February 15, ring-billed gulls are in decline in Ontario. They often nest on flat rooftops, but don’t jump off! The gulls were from one to four weeks old. Toronto Wildlife Center sent out a distress call for help as they were overwhelmed with baby gulls. The wildlife rehab community responded, but why was it happening in the first place? The roofs were so hot that the birds were being burned alive.

Burning baby gulls are a symptom of a world in trouble.

Heermann’s gulls are beautiful gray gulls with white heads that are found along the California and Mexican coastlines. Researchers analyzed their population growth using models employing “normal” and high oceanic sea surface temperature (SST) conditions. Normally, there was about a 4% population growth rate, but with increasingly warm SST events, the predicted population growth goes down to a negative 15%. The gulls do fine even though there are high SSTs every four or five years – the historic figure – but now that warm SSTs are dramatically increasing, more gulls will die than are hatched, which is a route to endangerment.

That’s a tad esoteric, but then there is that study of the world’s most southerly polar bears, intensely surveyed over many years. It found that the number of bears in James Bay and the southern end of Hudson Bay has declined 17% – from 943 to 780 – in the past five years. That’s a trend, and it supports all of the other news emerging, especially here in Canada, for the simple reason the higher the degree of latitude the more pronounced the effects from climate change.

My point is that this happened only in the first week of summer. How long can the deniers remain in denial? I hope it’s not until their own feet burn and, like those baby gulls, they have nowhere to go, because unlike those gulls, rescue will not happen.

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