Puffins Are Washing Ashore in Alaska

This fall, hundreds of puffins have washed ashore, dead or dying, on the Alaskan island of St. Paul.

“The first week collecting birds, I went out every day and was picking up a carcass every 15 feet in some areas,” Aaron Lestenkof, one of St. Paul’s island sentinels, told the Huffington Post.

By mid-November, at least 250 puffins had been found.
 

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This number of dead birds is unusual and alarming, University of Washington ecologist Julia Parrish told Alaska Dispatch Publishing.

“In 10 years of standard beach surveys, we’ve only found, at most, three tufted puffins. There’s a very big difference there,” she said.
 

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Parrish and other scientists believe the puffin die-off is being caused by record-high temperatures in the Bering Sea. This summer’s maximum high temperature was the warmest ever recorded in the region.

“The Bering Sea has been off-the-charts warm,” Nate Mantua, an ecologist at the NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center, told National Geographic. “We’ve never seen anything like this. We’re in uncharted territory. We’re in the midst of an extraordinary time.”
 

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Thomas Gansow
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Thomas Gansow

 
Puffins haven’t been dying in Alaska alone. Populations in Maine, Scotland and Ireland are also facing collapse.

Seabirds are particularly vulnerable to climate change. Warmer ocean temperatures disrupt the entire food chain, beginning with zooplankton.

But birds are also affected by changing wind patterns, which disturb their migration, and extreme ocean conditions that destroy their coastal habitats. Like canaries in a coal mine, they’re sending an important signal about the state of their environment.

 

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