Worsening conditions within the North Sea could be responsible for the recent increase in winter mortality in Scotland’s Atlantic puffins, according to research published in the scientific journal Marine Biology.
“The study used geolocation technology to track puffins from the Isle of May National Nature Reserve, home to the largest colony of puffins in the North Sea. The puffin population on the Isle of May has declined by 30 percent in recent years,” the UK-based Centre for Ecology & Hydrology said in a news release today.
An Atlantic puffin catches a beakful of fish, Scotland.
NGS stock photo by Dick Durrance II
“Modern technology has come to the aid of the puffin just when it was needed,” said Mike Harris, study leader and Emeritus Research Fellow at the research organization. “The quarter of a million puffins that breed in northeast Britain head out to sea during the winter and we previously thought that they stayed in the North Sea. We now know that some make long trips into the Atlantic during winter. This is vital new knowledge which should help us explain recent declines in puffin numbers.”
“Recently-developed miniature logging devices weighing 1.5 grams [a twentieth of an ounce] were deployed during the 2007/2008 winter on 50 puffins from the Isle of May National Nature Reserve,” the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology statement said. “Data was downloaded from 13 of these geolocators with the records showing that over three-quarters of the birds made excursions lasting between one and four months into the Atlantic between successive breeding seasons, before returning to their home waters in the North Sea.”
Atlantic puffin photo courtesy USFWS
Co-author Francis Daunt from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology said, “Although the factors causing the recent changes in puffin distribution and mortality require further study, we are confident that this new approach, combining data from logging devices such as geolocators together with other information on changing conditions in the North Sea, will help improve our understanding of this complex ecological issue.”