Dozens of Dead Puffins in Dalvík

Puffins lundar látrabjarg

Nearly 50 dead puffins were found on the seashore in Dalvík, North Iceland, RÚV reports. Chief Veterinarian of MAST, the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority, says their cause of death is unclear but it could be avian flu. The deaths are being investigated.

“Puffins are of course returning to their homesteads if we can say so, at least their summer grounds where they nest and lay eggs,” stated Þorvaldur H. Þórðarson, MAST’s chief veterinarian. “So whether that has something to do with it, one can’t say. But of course the first thing that comes to mind is the possibility of avian flu.”

Mass deaths reported last year

Last year similar incidents were reported in West Iceland, with locals spotting dead puffins and kittiwakes in the dozens. No bird flu was detected in samples taken from the birds. Some meteorologists suggested that extreme weather had caused the deaths.

Þorvaldur stated that MAST would look into the deaths and decide whether samples would be taken for further analysis.

Puffin populations on the decline

Iceland plays host to a significant portion of the world’s puffins, with approximately 20% of the global population nesting in the Westman Islands every year. In total, the country boasts some 3 million nesting pairs. Although Iceland’s puffins have had some good breeding seasons in recent years, recent data shows their population has declined by 70% over the last 30 years.

While puffin populations naturally fluctuate over time, the recent data unveiled an unprecedented pattern and a more rapid decline than previously believed. Last year, experts proposed a ban on puffing hunting in Iceland. Experts say a ban would slow, though not stop, the birds’ decline.

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Avian Flu Diagnosed, Risk of Poultry Infection “Considerable”

A case of the avian flu has been diagnosed in a mallard discovered in Garðabær. The risk of infection from wild birds to poultry is now deemed “considerable,” according to the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST). The public is asked to notify MAST of any sightings of sick or dead birds.

The first case of avian flu

The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) recently downgraded its preparedness level for avian flu, from level three to two, after there were no reported infections during the winter, RÚV reports; MAST had received significantly fewer reports from the public regarding sick or dead wild birds since last October, and the few samples that had been taken, did not yield any positive results.

Strict quarantine measures have, however, been in place to prevent the virus from being brought into the country by migratory birds. Poultry and other captive birds must, for example, be kept indoors or in covered enclosures.

Preparedness levels may need to be reconsidered, however, as a mallard discovered in a yard in Garðabær (in the capital region of Iceland) on March 31 was diagnosed with a severe case of avian flu. According to MAST, this is the first confirmed case of avian flu in Iceland this year, with the institution emphasising that the risk of infection from wild birds to poultry is now deemed “considerable.” It is, therefore, essential for all poultry owners to take “the utmost precautions.”

Numerous reports of sick and dead Kittiwakes

Over the weekend, MAST also received multiple reports of sick and dead geese, including one dead greylag goose in the western part of Seltjarnarnes, Reykjavík. Additionally, the institution also received reports of several sick and dead Kittiwakes (a common seabird in Iceland) in Keflavík, in the Reykjanes area. Since then, daily reports have been coming in about dead Kittiwakes in Bakkatjörn, Seltjarnarnes, and within a larger area on the western side of Reykjanes.

Samples were taken from both locations, but none of the samples yielded positive results for the avian flu. MAST states that it is unclear what is causing the sudden mass deaths. The case is currently under investigation and further samples will be taken. Meanwhile, MAST encourages the public to provide any information on the discovery of sick or dead birds and to report the presence of any other species in areas where there has been noticeable bird mortality.