Maine Puffins Under Threat From Ocean Warming, Expert Reports

Maine puffins recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Puffin Project, the famous operation headed up by National Audubon Society puffin specialist Dr. Steve Kress. As a result of the NAS introduction efforts starting on Eastern Egg Rock and then spreading to other Maine islands, about 1,000 puffins are now nesting offshore Maine.

However, as the Puffin Project recently reported in a video Q&A as well as to The Bangor Daily News reporters, the Maine puffins may be in trouble once again.

During the 2012-13 winter season, Kress said that they got many unusual reports of the Maine puffins coming too close to shore, with some of the birds washing up dead. For example, 35 dead puffins — seven of them banded in Maine — were found offshore Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

That came on top of a poor 2012 summer breeding season, when the warming ocean temperatures meant that fish were simply too big. Kress said,”We saw puffins starving on Seal Island and Matinicus Rock because the food that the parents were bringing back was too big for them, and the little chicks couldn’t swallow it.”

The warming trend has continued, with last winter’s sea temperatures in the area hitting the highest levels in 150 years — and that could spell bad news for the puffins, which are adapted to cold northern waters. Tags placed on two of the puffins proved that at least some of the birds were also caught up in the track of last October’s dangerous Superstorm Sandy — as well as a number of other winter storms.

As a result, only 60 percent of the Maine puffins returned to the nest sites this year.

One of the ways that Project Puffin awakens awareness of the issues facing puffins is with their puffin burrow cam, which gives people who can’t travel to Maine a peek into a puffin family’s nest burrow. The parents recently welcomed a new chick dubbed Hope.

You can see footage of the Q&A with Dr. Steve Kress on the Project Puffin Facebook page.

This is a Puffin Project video from 2008 which shows you what a healthy puffin colony looks like:

I took the top photograph during my June visit to Machias Seal Island that same year. As I hope you can see, the charming Maine puffins are well worth preserving.

[Maine puffin photo by Elaine Radford]