Puffins Are Starving to Death Because of Climate Change

It started with a few dead tufted puffins washing up on the shores of a small island off the coast of Alaska. Now, the death toll has risen into the hundreds as scientists continue to collect dead bodies.

“In 10 years of monitoring, we’ve only seen six puffins wash in―total,” Julia Parrish, a University of Washington professor who coordinates a West Coast volunteer bird-monitoring network, told National Geographic. “Now we’ve seen nearly 250 in 20 days. And these islands are small dots in the middle of a huge ocean. The entire puffin population is only 6,000 birds, and we project half that many may be affected.”

Sadly, the cause isn’t a mystery – they’re starving to death. Scientists also suspect the bodies they’re finding are just a small fraction of the total number, and are worried about what this die off means for their future survival.

Ultimately, the lack of food these puffins need is being attributed to climate change. Warmer waters have had a particularly detrimental effect on the smallest organisms and fish on the bottom of the food web. The lack of fish impacts seabirds, and it raises concerns for the entire ecosystem of the Bering Sea.

“The maximum summer temperatures in the Bering Sea were the warmest we’ve ever seen,” said Phyllis Stabeno, with NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Lab. “And the minimum temperature―the coldest it gets in winter―was warmer than several of the last years.”

The outlook for puffins living elsewhere isn’t much better. A lack of food has caused similar trouble for puffins in Iceland.

The largest population in the Atlantic, who live in the Gulf of Maine, also took a major hit this summer with the worst breeding season ever recorded. Scientists reported that a vast majority of chicks were starving in their burrows, following a sudden drop in their food supply.

Tony Diamond, director of the Atlantic Laboratory for Avian Research at the University of New Brunswick told the Portland Press Herald that he doubted any of the ones who fledged this year will survive long enough to breed, and most were still too small to even get identification bands.

While scientists are trying to figure out exactly how climate change is impacting the world’s oceans, they will continue to survey changes and support efforts to ensure puffins survive.

For more information on efforts to help these unique little seabirds, check out the Project Puffin.

Photo credit: Steve Ebbert, USFWS

227 comments

Mark Donner
Mark Donner10 months ago

Shirley: Planetary global warming is man made. THAT IS A PHYSICAL FACT. 30 billion tons of CO2 pumped into the upper atmosphere and oceans from fossil fuel burning does NOT have no effect. Deal with reality.

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Marie W
Marie W11 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Peggy B.
Peggy B11 months ago

TYFS

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Peggy B.
Peggy B11 months ago

TYFS

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aj E.
aj E11 months ago

sad.

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Janet B.
Janet B11 months ago

Thanks

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Sandra Vito
Sandra Vito11 months ago

Thanks

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Marija Mohoric
Marija M11 months ago

tks for sharing

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Alison A.
Alison A11 months ago

Thanks for posting.

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Deborah S.
Deborah S11 months ago

Thanks

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