What happens in the High Arctic stays in the High Arctic

Ross's gull are, quite literally, one of the most difficult species to study. They nest in places that cost tens of thousands of dollars to even get to, and they only breed in very small numbers if they even bother to breed at all. This is probably why nobody has really spent too much time trying to work with them (barring at least one notable exception). Many would argue that it's hard to justify the time and energy and expense to study such rare and hard to find birds since 'real science' is built on large and robust datasets generated by controlled experiments or extensive sampling which simply cannot be supported by small sample sizes. While old-school observational natural history may have fallen out of favour in recent years (like, since the turn of the last century), that doesn't mean a passive approach is useless. In some cases, careful observation can provide enough circumstantial evidence to at least support a theory, even if it can't also provide the proof. At the very least, it can make us stop and think and carefully consider what we think we already know.

At the end of the day, some of the most interesting aspects of science are those that don't seem to fit into the accepted order of things. So when you see a bird doing something totally crazy, day after day, year after year, you watch it, wonder "why?", and then spend several years mulling it over before submitting your observations and theories to a variety of journals which politely reject your manuscript because it sounds a little loony to re-think some of the most basic notions of evolutionary biology* based on observations of a handful of super rare birds. 

We are thrilled that this really cool little paper was picked up by Arctic, and even more thrilled that it was very soon thereafter featured as 'Editor's Choice' in ScienceFirst and foremost it proves that studying even 'impossible to study' species is worthwhile and important, and if nothing else, it reaffirms that sitting around just watching birds can still be a productive thing to do if you are patient and keep an open mind!

*Funny enough, 98% of the theoretical foundations of ecology and evolutionary biology were laid out by the ultimate OG grand-daddy of all observational natural historians who pretty much went for a five year cruise and spent the rest of his life thinking about what he had seen before dropping this little bomb on the world. So just kidding about the post title Charles, you are right about everything, always. 

Comment