The Middleton Island
Marine Biological Station

A Unique Facility for Ecosystem Research in the Gulf of Alaska
Seabirds Nesting On Middleton​
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Acres Comprising The Research Station​
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average island population in summer (winter: 2)
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former U.S. Air Force buildings repurposed for bird research
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middleton island

about the island

Middleton Island, situated about 60 miles off the coast in the north-central Gulf of Alaska, is home to a marine field station unlike any other in the world.  Research and monitoring conducted there since 1978 is furnishing data relevant to marine ecosystem management in the Gulf and the northeastern Pacific generally.

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Latest News from the Island

Seabird research and monitoring continued on Middleton Island in 2019, conducted by an international team from Canada, Japan, Britain and the United States.

Jonathan Green

Provided on-site training for the implantation of heart-rate monitors in black-legged kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla) and common murres (Uria aalge).

Kristen Gorman and Anne Schaefer

Launched a second year of seasonal tracking of tufted puffins using geolocators. Lingering effects or a re-emergence of the recent marine heatwave were evident in 2019, especially in exceptional wide-range foraging by black-legged kittiwakes from spring arrival through chick-rearing (extensive GPS tracking).

learn about the researchers

meet the team

Kyle Elliott, Ph.D.

Research Scientist & Professor/Canada Research Chair in Arctic Ecology, McGill University, Montreal, Canada
Kyle is an assistant professor at McGill University. He completed his PhD at the University of Manitoba using data collected at Middleton in 2010, 2012 and 2013, and has been hooked ever since. His PhD focused on senescence in black-legged kittiwakes. More recently, he has worked on tracking of kittiwakes, auklets, puffins and glaucous-winged gulls to answer a variety of behavioral, physiological and ecological questions.

Morgan Benowitz-Fredericks, Ph.D.

Research Scientist & Professor, Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA
Morgan is an associate professor at Bucknell University. She first came to Middleton as a graduate student (University of Washington) in 2003, but was not able to “come home” again to this incredible site until 2016. Her work capitalizes on Middleton’s incredible potential for experimental research on free-living seabirds, exploring the physiology and endocrinology of chick development and life-history of kittiwakes.

Sarah Leclaire, Ph.D.

Research Scientist & Associate, National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), Toulouse, France
Sarah is a behavioural ecologist with a particular interest in mate choice in seabirds. She is a researcher working at the CNRS in Toulouse, France. She first came to Middleton as a PhD student from 2007 to 2010, and then came as a PI in 2016-2018. Her work on Middleton mainly focuses on immunogenetic-based mate choice in black-legged kittiwakes and the associated sexual signals.

Akiko Shoji, Ph.D.

Research Scientist & Professor, University of Tsukuba, Japan
Akiko is a behavioural ecologist with a particular interest in seabirds and birds of prey. She did her M.Sc. at the University of Ottawa, Canada, under Dr. Tony Gaston’s supervision, and then moved to the UK and did her D.Phil. at the University of Oxford & Merton College under Prof Tim Guilford’s supervision. She returned to Japan in 2016 and has begun to collaborate with the Middleton Island team on various projects. She is now fortunate to visit Middleton personally.

scott hatch Ph.D.

Collaborating Scientist & Founder, Institute for Seabird Research and Conservation (ISRC)
Scott is a wildlife biologist with a 37-year employment history at federal agencies in Alaska (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey) (retired 2012). As the self-appointed “Mayor of Middleton Island,” he opined in a recent (if superfluous) campaign speech: “After more than 40 years of field work in Alaska, I’ve been fortunate to visit most of the choicest spots along the expansive Alaska coast, but Middleton remains one of my favorite places. I first worked there in 1978, and I’ve been back annually since 1986. It never gets old.”

how it all started

history of Middleton island

The Middleton Island Air Force Base (defense communications and radar) was operated for 6 years during the Cold War, decommissioned in 1963, and sold to a consortium of private investors in 1966.

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Geological History

Geologically speaking, Middleton Island is thought to be less than 5000 years old.  It comprises the exposed portion of a continental shelf area subject to continuous tectonic uplift.  In 1964, the great Alaska Earthquake raised the island nearly 4 meters in the span of a few minutes, exposing previously submerged seafloor at the perimeter and greatly expanding the island’s area.

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Cultural History

Oral history documents seasonal use of Middleton by Chugach and Eyak Native peoples, while the first permanent inhabitants were probably settlers engaged in the fox-farming industry in the late 1890s through the 1920s.  During WWII, the U.S. Coast Guard built a small communications station on the island, the first of successive U.S. Government operations to follow, including the Civil Aeronautics Administration, U.S. Air Force, Federal Aviation Administration, and various wildlife and land management agencies.

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Biological History

Driven partly by changes wrought by the earthquake and partly by large-scale oceanographic factors, bird populations on Middleton are more dynamic than possibly anywhere else in Alaska.  The island hosts substantial numbers of kittiwakes, cormorants, gulls, murres and puffins, but no species is stable–huge fluctuations, both up and down, have occurred since regular monitoring began in the 1970s.

support the efforts

Currently, field operations on Middleton are part of Gulf Watch Alaska (Exxon-Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council) and receive funding mainly through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Geological Survey.  But making ends meet budget-wise is a perennial challenge. Your tax-deductible contribution, in any amount, will help grow a permanent endowment fund, the earnings from which will support both incremental additions, upgrades, and maintenance of facilities and continuity in a core program of seabird monitoring and research.

Middleton Summer Research

Student Testimonials

conduct research on the island

Scott and a team of researchers have decades of experience working on this island. Learn how you can join the team and start conducting research.