Puffling season is in full swing on the Westman Islands, where young and old alike are hard at work returning disoriented Puffin chicks to the sea, RÚV reports. As summer draws to a close, the chicks head out to sea, but some are disoriented by the lights of the town, which they mistakenly see as stars reflected in the ocean. Volunteers have been busy: South Iceland Institute of Natural History Director Erpur Snær Hansen says there are 50% more pufflings this year than last. As of yesterday, the number of rescues had reached 2,131.
Puffin population on the mend?
Westman Islands residents and visitors have partaken in puffling rescue operations, known as the Puffling Patrol, for many years. Volunteers head out in the middle of the night to scour the town for confused chicks, which are collected in carboard boxes and released at sea. Low puffling numbers in recent years mean boxes have been somewhat empty, but the outlook is changing for the better. “There are 50% more pufflings in the burrows than last year after they died, so I roughly estimate there are about 50% more, which is then about 10,000, and that’s [similar to numbers] before the turn of the century,” Erpur stated.
Pufflings on a diet
The pufflings this year are, however, lighter and skinnier than in previous seasons, a change which Erpur attributes to their diet. Sandeel, usually the puffin’s main food source, has been late to the party this summer. This summer’s pufflings have instead been feeding mainly on northern krill.
“It’s quite nutritious. There’s very little fat in it and that means it has slowed the pufflings’ growth,” Erpur says. “It could be said they have been put on a diet.”
Oil pollution worrying
It’s not always possible to save disoriented pufflings that head into town instead of out to sea. According to Erpur, oil pollution in Heimaey harbour is worsening. “It’s sort of persistent and the harbour is kind of long and narrow, so if anything comes into it it stays there for a long time. The situation is not good enough and I think something needs to be done about it.”
Nevertheless, Erpur says, it’s been a successful breeding season for puffins around Iceland. “It looks like a good year across the country for the first time in ten years,” he told Iceland Review.