Puffins are seabirds that are especially wonderful and beautiful to watch.
They frequent the ocean far from shore where they feed on all manner of small ocean life, nothing bigger than an anchovy or small herring typically. This blog post brings you both bad news but more importantly the good news for Puffins.
Starting with the Bad News for Puffins…
(Tip – there is really good news at the end of this post f your heart lets you get that far.)
Puffins are in desperate trouble as life in the ocean pastures they frequent is collapsing. As those ocean puffin pastures cease producing abundant phyto-plankton the rest of the food chain up to and beyond the Puffin beauties dies off.
This week news of a terrible “Sea Bird Wreck” has been reported in Europe and the British Isles. The story reads: Following the severe storms of the last three months, over 28,000 seabirds have been found dead along the coasts of southwest Europe from Spain to northern Scotland. Some of these storm-washed birds were wearing uniquely numbered rings that tell us their age and origin, many being from remote colonies in Wales and Scotland. To help monitor this unprecedented ‘wreck’ the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) is urging beachcombers to check for rings if they find any dead birds.
If it’s daylight in Maine you might see some puffins in the live cam window below located on one of their loafing ledges 18 miles offshore of Rockland, Maine.
Video streaming by Ustream
For a number of years now seabirds – including the iconic Atlantic puffin – have been in trouble. Researchers are concerned about starving chicks and dead birds that washed up each winter off Cape Cod and Scotland. This decline has been in lock step with observed declines of ocean primary productivity, the amount of phyto-plankton growing, or rather NOT growing in the Atlantic. That grass of the North Atlantic ocean pastures is down by 20% or more in the past few decades. As with any pasture an ocean pasture can only support a large variety of life if it grows lots of grass. Walt Whitman once said, “all beef is grass,” indeed on the dwindling Atlantic ocean pastures “all fish (and Puffins) is plankton.”
“Puffins, because they eat tiny fish, are a very good indicator of what’s going on in the oceans,” said one Audubon expert, calling the colorful seabirds the “ocean canary.” Tragically those “ocean canaries” are dying.
“For all the work that we do and have done to restore the puffins, it can be undone by these conditions that are maybe unfolding.”
About six to eight million Atlantic puffins live around the North Atlantic Ocean, nesting in Labrador, Maine, France, Iceland, Greenland and northern Russia. An estimated 2,000 of the birds live in Maine.
Scientists keep hoping for a different outcome than previous years, when parent puffins had trouble finding herring, the usual food for their fledglings. These days instead, the parent birds have been bringing a larger fish called butterfish back to their nests.
“We found dead puffin chicks surrounded by large butterfish,” Kress said. “We realized that the little chicks were actually starving … these fish were larger than the puffins’ beak. They struggled to swallow the fish.”
Last spring, 3,500 puffins washed up on the shore of Scotland following a series of storms, this year things are even worse. In Cape Cod, at least 40 puffins and 400 other seabirds died this spring, including 200 razorbills, he said. These seabird wrecks are caused by the fact that many of those birds had not gotten enough food to maintain their body weight or molt out of their drabber winter plumage. When a storm hits them many are simply too weak to survive.
It’s not the first challenge for seabirds. Maine puffins were over-hunted in the 1800s for food, eggs and feathers, Kress said. By 1901, only one nesting pair was left in Maine on Matinicus Rock. But conservation efforts over the last decades have paid off. He began a program to re-establish a puffin colony on Eastern Egg Rock off the coast of Knox County 40 years ago. Through Project Puffin, researchers moved puffin chicks from a colony in Newfoundland and raised them on Eastern Egg Rock so that the birds would eventually return to raise their own chicks.
OK read on for PUFFIN GOOD NEWS!
While until recently few were offering any ideas let alone solutions to helping save the declining Puffins we know from our work replenishing and restoring ocean pastures in the NE Pacific in 2012 that those and Puffin pastures can be brought back to historic levels of health and abundance. Where our ocean pasture before we began our active stewardship and restoration work revealed sea birds, including Puffins, seen in one’s and two’s, once the pasture bloomed we were stunned to count seabirds by the thousands, even tens of thousands, as they flocked to feed in our blooming ocean. Read “Something Wonderful Happened.”
Ocean Seabird Pastures are also ocean fish pastures and we have demonstrated, over an area of more than 35,000 sq. kilometers, they can most certainly be brought back to life and abundance. Last fall the Pink Salmon that were residents of our NE Pacific pasture swam home to SE Alaska and were caught in the greatest number of salmon in all of history. Where 50 million Pink Salmon were expected to be caught 226 million were caught. Every other form of sea life has been seen to increase in what experts are saying must be due to some mysterious environmental factor. With a little help, instead of mostly starving all of ocean life were treated to our feast!
As we embark on our planned project(s) to restore the Atlantic Ocean Salmon and Cod Pastures we won’t forget about the beautiful Puffins. Link here for more.
Fly over to the Audubon site Project Puffin if you have time to learn all about Puffins.