Biologist: Puffin Numbers Continue to Decline

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Biologist: Puffin Numbers Continue to Decline

By Zoë Robert
Puffins in Iceland

Photo: Páll Stefánsson.

There are signs that the puffin stock in Iceland is at great risk again this year. According to biologist Erpur Snær Hansen, who recently returned from a research trip around the country, studying the condition of puffins and other sea birds, there is a collapse of the puffin stock in Iceland. “This is the twelfth year in a row that breeding does not go well in Vestmannaeyjar (the Westman Islands),” he told visir.is.

There were an estimated eight million puffins in Iceland in 2003 but that number has dropped to around five million, a 37 percent decrease. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) compiles a list of threatened species known as the Red List using criteria such as a decrease in a species’ stock of 30 percent or more within a decade. “The young birds, which are the birds people catch when puffin hunting, are virtually gone in three quarters of the population,” Erpur added. 

Erpur continued by saying that there are periods of warm weather at 70-year intervals. During the warmer periods, the baitfish stock, which puffins feed on, collapses. “Now such a period is ongoing but there is also a change in the temperature of the ocean, which is caused by humans.”

It isn’t all bad news for the puffin, though. The situation is better in the north as there is still enough baitfish in the waters in North Iceland.

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