When you hear about the great journeys undertaken by some of nature’s smallest creatures, you can’t help but feel inspired to step into adventures of your own that may be outside your comfort zone. And no odyssey is greater than that of the Arctic tern (Sterna paradisaea).
Weighing only 3.2 to 4.2 ounces, Arctic terns travel more than fifty thousand miles, from pole to pole, every year. In fact, the Arctic tern sees more of our planet — and more daylight — than any other creature on Earth.
In order to document this feat, Carsten Egevang, a researcher at the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources, fitted fifty Arctic terns on Sand Island, off Greenland’s coast, with geolocators. He waited a year; and when the birds returned, he attempted to find the same Arctic terns he’d banded amid a thousand breeding pairs in the Greenland wilderness. He recovered ten.
I first wrote about the Arctic tern’s incredible migration in this column in 2011. Today, however, you can see the ten, tagged birds’ individual journeys on a map created by Google Earth. Watch the short, six-minute video below.
Egevang’s research not only serves to record the Arctic tern’s annual adventures, but points out the importance of what are called “hotspots” in the ocean: places that are especially rich in food that are not only essential for Arctic terns and other seabirds, but for marine mammals, as well. This knowledge can help us decide which parts of the ocean are especially in need of conservation efforts and vigilance.
Here’s to your adventures, in whatever corner of the world you find them,