Seabirds – murres (guillemots)
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Murres are among the most abundant seabirds in the Northern Hemisphere with a population in excess of ten million adults.  There are two species of murres (known as guillemots in Europe), the thick-billed murre and the common murre.  The thick-billed murre is mainly confined to Arctic waters while the common murre has a wider distribution.  Murres breed in very large colonies of up to one million birds on mainland cliffs or offshore islands.  Adults weigh up to 1 kg, can remain under water for up to 4 minutes, and dive regularly to depths of up to 150 m.  They can travel searching for food for up to 100km from their colony.    Download Press package here


In most places, they lay their eggs in the open, making them easy to count and this helps make them them ideal subjects for indicating changes in the marine environment.  The majority of regional populations have shown declines over the past three decades.  Populations in several countries have declined due to drowning in fishing nets.  While they are currently abundant, climate change is projected to pose problems for murres, especially for the the thick-billed murre.


Changes in the extent and timing of sea-ice cover is leading to changes in phenology and reproduction.  In the long term, the decrease in range of thick-billed murres in response to the retreat of Arctic sea ice appears likely. Eventually it may be replaced by the common murre and other more southern auks.


Murres are highly susceptible to oil and are often the most numerous species killed by oil spills.  Levels of some contaminants, especially mercury, have increased in murre eggs in the North American Arctic since the 1970s, although they remain at sub-lethal levels. Murres are sensitive to changes in sea surface temperature and both species tend to show negative population trends where there was a large change in sea surface temperature.


Threats include fisheries interactions, over-exploitation, contaminants, and oil spills, the latter becoming more important if climate change expands shipping and hydrocarbon development in the Arctic.



Citation for photo:

Greenland, Flemming Merkel, Danish National Environmental Research Institute