Climate change has been threatening the survival of humans and many wildlife species. The rising average temperature of the atmosphere and seas owing to global warming have been affecting the animals the way they eat, migrate, breed and live! One of such animals is colourful billed sea-bird called Atlantic Puffin. In the last few years, scientists suggest, the rising temperature of the seawater and melting ice have led their population to decline drastically and have left many of them starved.
Atlantic Puffins (Fratercula arctica), which look like miniature penguins, is the species of seabirds from the Auk family. Their range span from Iceland, Greenland, Ireland, Norway and the United Kingdom in Europe to Newfoundland, Canada and along the coast of Maine in the US, in the North America. Around 90 per cent of the puffins are found in Europe and sixty per cent of the puffins breed in Iceland and the majority of them are found in the Westman Islands in Iceland.
Most of their time is spent in open seas. To rear a chick, the pair breeds in the months of April and May and chooses clifftops to nest their egg. At a very early stage, the chick leaves for the sea to feed itself and until then the parents feed it with smaller fish such as sand eels, capelin and hake or herrings which make up 90 per cent of its diet. However, with rising sea temperature, most of these small fish have been either dying or moving away into the deeper waters. This decline in the availability of their food has led the puffins unable to forage or feed their young ones. Sometimes they fly away further which again expends more of their energy. This has resulted in delayed breeding season too. Exhaustion and in desperation, they try to feed the younger ones other available fish like butterfish or larger herrings which the chicks find difficult to swallow. Emaciated, starved and dead–a large population of the puffins are being found washed ashore, raising the concerns of the scientific community. In recent years, such mass die-offs have become frequent significantly.
With low birth rates, only one chick per year, the impacts of climate change on these sea birds could be even worse and it would take time to recover them from the negative impacts. Moreover, the puffins have been hunted by humans for ages. Although, the hunting is restrained now, but it does contribute to the decline in the population. With the rise in frequency and intensity of extreme weather events like storms, several sea birds are being ravaged over the years and half of these sea birds are puffins. The factors could be many for the sharp decline of these puffins, however, we have ample evidence to conclude that the rising temperature due to climate change is the major cause of the decline of the small fish which are the food of these puffins. Unless we take effective measures to reverse global warming and protect the affected population by introducing stringent policies which conserve and sustain these creatures, we might not be far away from the day they become extinct.