Warming seas endanger puffin stock

03.06.2021 - 14:36
Mynd með færslu
 Mynd: Jóhannes Jónsson - RÚV
Warming seas appear to have led to a large reduction in the number of puffins around Iceland in recent decades.

This is the conclusion of a new paper in the Global Change Biology journal that assesses the Vestmannaeyjar puffin population since 1880. Puffling counts have shown a large decrease in puffin numbers in Iceland in recent decades; which is especially significant because Iceland has the world’s biggest puffin population. 

The research results indicate that puffins have adapted somewhat to changing sea temperatures. They are successfully raising the most pufflings since the 20th century, with the sea roughly half a degree warmer. The sea temperature appears to be changing three times faster than the puffins can adapt to, however. The puffin stock thrives with the sea at 7.1°C and the number of pufflings raised decreases when the water is both warmer and cooler. 

The results clearly show the effect of climate change, especially warming seas, on animal life in northern regions. 

There is a many-centuries-long tradition of hunting puffins in Iceland, though the practice is now strictly regulated. Hunting is only allowed between 1st September and 25th April. Figures for 2020 show that 28,872 birds were hunted—though 22 percent of hunters have yet to report their numbers. 

The puffin is at great risk according to the Icelandic Natural History Institute and is endangered according to the international conservation red list. Both classifications are from 2018. Both of the past two summers were better puffin breeding seasons; though they follow a long line of poor summers. 

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