Puffin hunting in Westmann Islands may be discontinued Skip to content

Puffin hunting in Westmann Islands may be discontinued

Egg-laying appears to be poor, as it has been for the last two years, among puffins in the Westmann Islands, south off Iceland, which means the inhabitants on the islands may be forced to cease puffin-hunting.

Puffins have been found to eat lesser sand eel, also known as sand lance (Ammodytes tobianus), which lives in the waters around the Westmann islands. The lesser sand eel stock has been decreasing for the last few years, Morgunbladid reports.

Some argue the lesser sand eel may be disappearing due to higher ocean temperatures, disease or because it is eaten by minke whales.

“I don’t believe minke whales eat so many lesser sand eels that there is nothing left for the birds,” said bird expert Jóhann Óli Hilmarsson.

Sand eel stocks in the waters around the Faroe Islands and the Shetlands have collapsed due to overfishing, but the fish is not caught in Icelandic waters.

“The ocean is changing. The Gulf Stream is becoming warmer and saltier, the Greenland Ice Cap is melting and all of this influences life in the ocean,” said Dr. Erpur Snaer Hansen, an ecologist.

Hansen said new fish species are replacing the lesser sand eel like broadnose pipefish (Syngnathus typhle), which puffins have attempted to feed to their hatchlings but with poor results.

“Unfortunately there are indications that the bird life in Iceland as we know it belongs to the past,” Hansen concluded.

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