Meet the Miraculous Murre… and our Super Scientist Emily Choy!


Hey Earth Rangers! As you may have read in our project kickoff article, our research partner Emily Choy is working hard at saving the thick-billed murre. Curious to see how she manages to do her work, on the side of cliffs (WHOA!)?! Keep reading!

Meet Thick-billed murre hero, Emily Choy!

Emily studies the effects of climate change on thick-billed murres in the Arctic, looking at how changes in prey availability (that’s fancy “science-speak” for how much food they can find) affects their behaviour. Over the past 30 years, the prey of thick-billed murres has changed from almost 50% Arctic cod to almost 50% capelin, a fish species from the Atlantic Ocean. But why? And does this matter? These are questions Emily is hard at work trying to figure out!

So what is a typical day for Emily?

Usually, Emily and her team start their day off by checking each of their research sites for new eggs, pipped eggs (eggs that have cute little baby chicks starting to hatch), and new chicks. Next, it depends on what type of research activities they have planned for that day. 

On some days early in the breeding season, Emily helps measure the size of eggs to see how they are developing and when they might be ready to hatch. On other days Emily’s team spends a few hours gently catching birds and attaching small biologgers on them. These fancy tools basically look like tiny backpacks on the birds’ backs. How cute! They let the team track where the birds are going and what they are doing. Other days Emily spends her time working on her main research goals, including looking at the effects of warm temperatures on the birds’ breathing rate and behaviour, or monitoring their heart rate!

Emily’s team hard at work near the murre colony.
Breakfast is served, little one!

What is the most difficult thing about what Emily does?

According to Emily, definitely the rocky cliffs and weather conditions! Arctic fieldwork can be very tricky as the weather and environment can be unpredictable. Sometimes Emily might have a plan to do her work, such as re-catching a bird she is studying, but she can’t if it’s too windy, since it isn’t safe for her to do her work. The team also has to be extra alert for polar bears, since they sometimes come looking for murre eggs. If a polar bear comes looking for eggs to nibble on while they are researching they can’t keep hanging out with the murre because it can get extra dangerous!!  

Safety first for Emily and her team! Look at all their harnesses!
A birds-eye view of the Coats Island, where Emily’s team is doing their research. This is what the murres see when they are flying around! Awesome!

Spectacular swimmers

Emily believes that murres are really quite extraordinary, and we do too! Murres spend many hours flying great distances through the air during the breeding season. This defies the rules of nature because most other birds that are amazing divers typically do not spend a lot of time flying since it requires a lot of energy. Penguins are the perfect example of this, as they are amazing divers but do not fly! 

Murres can use their wings to swim underwater, kind of like underwater flying! Some murres have been recorded to dive up to 200 metres in about 3-4 minutes. To compare, scuba divers can generally only go about 40 meters deep without it getting extremely dangerous for their bodies, due to extreme underwater pressure. That means that the murres can swim down five times that amount, so they are incredibly strong! Take a moment and think about that in terms of height: if we swam down 200 meters, that would be like swimming about half the length of the CN Tower in Toronto!! WHOA!

Round of applause for Emily and the magnificent murres!

You can do your part to help Emily on her quest to learn more about these amazing birds by purchasing an adoption kit in the app!

Your adoption kit comes with a personalized certificate, thick-billed murre poster, and an adorable murre plushie!

Photos by Douglas Noblet ~

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