Fall has arrived in the Westman Islands, as indicated by the first baby puffins pysjur leaving their nests. According to local biology teacher Gísli Óskarsson, the baby puffins are rather heavy this year which is a good sign.
“Puffins are an important indicator for the condition of the ocean since their condition represents the condition of the fish species upon which they feed,” Óskarsson, who has weighed baby puffins for the last 11 years, told Morgunbladid.
Puffins feed on sandlance (Lat. Ammodytes marinus) and Óskarsson believes that when there is volcanic activity in the volcano Katla on Mýrdalsjökull glacier, south Iceland, there is less sandlance for the puffins to feed on, resulting in lighter puffin babies in the fall.
The average weight decreased from 320 grams in 2002 to 217 in 2005, but was up to 316 again this year, which coincides with volcanic activity in Katla, Óskarsson stated.
According to the biology teacher’s theory, when Katla is active earthquakes cause fissures to open in the ocean floor and excessive CO2 to mix with the water. “The CO2 changes into carbonic acid, creating a poor condition for fish egg hatching,” Óskarsson said. “Under such circumstances the sandlance lays its eggs elsewhere.”
In late summer puffins stop feeding their chicks, forcing them to leave their nests and reach the ocean on their own. In the Westman Islands many baby puffins are distracted by the lights and head into town instead, where local children rescue the chicks and bring them to the ocean.