Human intervention, not nature, will ensure the puffin’s survival
By Derrick Z. Jackson | AUGUST 24, 2014
AFTER DECADES of successful efforts to restore its numbers, the Atlantic puffin remains a canary requiring more human care than ever. The last three years on the signature island of the National Audubon Society’s Project Puffin, Maine’s Eastern Egg Rock, have provided both a sobering and exhilarating illustration of that reality.
The project, which began in 1973 to rebuild a population all but wiped out by humans in the 1880s, reached a record number of 123 nesting pairs in both 2010 and 2011.
But the bird was brutally battered during the past two winters across the entire North Atlantic, with thousands of bodies washing upon European and American shores. Many of the dead birds showed signs of starvation. Scientists speculated puffins could not find traditional foods such as herring, either because of human overfishing or the fish moving away from waters being warmed by climate change. Puffins on Eastern Egg and other islands in Maine have, in recent years, caught more southerly fish that are unsuitable for chicks to eat, such as butterfish. The 2012 death of a chick nicknamed Petey, which could not eat butterfish, was captured on a web cam on another Project Puffin breeding ground, Seal Island.