Climate Change Could Be Linked to Thousands of Puffin Deaths

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There an endless number of negative effects caused by climate change. It’s about to get a whole lot worse as well. According to a new study, climate change could be the reason why thousands of tufted puffins have starved to death in the Bering Sea, which is an enormous tragedy for the species and environmentalists, along with those who have spent time and effort studying and monitoring these beautiful birds.

Study

There have been numerous attempts to study the puffins and monitor their numbers. One notable team was Timothy Jones, from the University of Washington in Seattle, and his colleagues, who monitored an area off Alaska for several months between 2016-17. Their findings were both shocking and quite frightening. The team discovered an unusual number of birds being washed up on beaches on St Paul’s Island. The majority of these birds, were tufted puffins. These spectacular birds used to be a common sign along the Alaskan coastlines. However, it appears as if their numbers are declining, rapidly. They can be easily recognised by their distinctive black and white feathers and orange beaks. 

Results

The results of the study are jaw-dropping, and not in a good way, either. The researchers say that upon arrival on the site and during the months of study, they managed to recover around 350 bird carcasses. This takes the estimates of bird deaths during the period right up to 8,800, almost 9000 dead puffins! Their report stated that the birds found were extremely malnourished, suggesting a lack of food and nutrients. In addition to this, many of the seabirds had signs of recent moulting of their feathers – possibly from stress. 

What caused this? 

While there is still some speculation and uncertainty about what has actually caused such large numbers of the birds to die, the leading theory is that it was, and still is, a lack of food. The warmer temperatures in the area and of the sea had most likely disturbed the food chain. It was later discovered that zooplankton, a once extremely common organism in the sea, were now much harder to find as their numbers had seemingly dropped, quite dramatically. 

Zooplankton are one of the main food sources for a lot of fish. In turn, these fish then consumed by the puffins. A disruption to the zooplankton population could begin to lead to a snowball effect as predator fish either die or migrate to other areas of the sea, which leads to less food for the puffins, hence their increased death rates. Constant periods of increased sea temperatures may be highly detrimental to many species of seabirds, including the tufted puffins. To make matters worse, Alaska has been labelled as one of the fastest warming regions on Earth. This has been confirmed recently as it has clearly been affected – the arctic state reported it’s warmest March on record earlier this year. 

These beautiful birds are dying, and no one seems to be doing much to stop it, which really is a shame. Before you know it, they’re likely to be nearing extinction, yet another species about to disappear forever.