The Problem with Puffins

Guest Essay by Kip Hansen


featured_image_430Catastrophe looms for the problematic puffin.  The likeable comically shaped and  cartoonishly colored birds that are the emblematic symbol of Iceland and are the official bird symbol for the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador, are definitely doomed if something isn’t done.  Or so we’ve been told.

Headlines scream:

Why Are Puffins Vanishing? The Hunt for Clues Goes Deep

UK puffins may go the way of the dodo with fears of extinction in 50 years

Puffins ‘could be extinct within decades’

Iceland’s Beloved Puffin Now Officially Endangered

Puffins could be about to become extinct


What is the Problem with Puffins? 

Nothing really.  Except for the news about puffins, that is.    One bit of news is that “Surveys have revealed that the number of Atlantic puffins has declined at several sites across the UK.”  (Metro News) And that “Though some puffin colonies are prospering, in Iceland, where the largest population of Atlantic puffins is found, their numbers have dropped from roughly seven million individuals to about 5.4 million.” (NY Times)  At the same time, Birdlife International estimates the European population alone at “9,550,000-11,600,000 mature individuals”.


So here’s the problem, some local populations of puffins have declined and that decline has caused some activist groups, such as the UK’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), to raise the alarm.  The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland [the “united” part based on the UK comprising England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales] is located on a group of islands to the northwest of continental Europe.  It has an area about the size of the US state of Michigan (or Oregon, or Wyoming).  So the national population of puffins there can rightly be considered a local population.  The problem discovered in the UK was that the basic diet item of the puffins during breeding season, and the primary diet fed to newly hatched chicks, the sand eel (some times written sandeel) has been a major target of industrial fishing for animal feed and fertilizer.  As a result a great deal of work has been done to provide marine sanctuaries and marine protected areas to recover the sand eel populations which will in turn help recover populations of sea birds and marine mammals that depend on them for food.


As with so many other sea birds,  Atlantic puffins  are  “threatened by overfishing, invasive predators such as rats on some islands and marine pollution.”  (Metro News) The first two are serious concerns.  Overfishing their primary prey species, vital during the chick rearing season, is believed to have led to declines, especially in the North Sea.  Puffins are ground nesting, like most sea birds, and egg and chick predation by rats (and cats and dogs) can easily sharply reduce the breeding success of a colony.  For that reason, most puffin rookeries are found on unpopulated islands which lessens the threat of invasive species — rats, cats, dogs.

Of course, every media report on the problem with puffins reports that “Climate change could be contributing to food shortages and extreme weather hitting the birds”.   Can puffins populations be affected by “extreme weather”?  Yes, of course, puffins live on the high seas, except when breeding, and when strong storms hit, puffins can be adversely affected.

There is a real story here about change affecting the birds. It’s just not Climate Change.  It is this change:  ”The temperature of waters around the country is governed by long-term cycles of what is known as the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation, with periods of colder water alternating with warmer. Between the 1965-1995 cold cycle and the current warm cycle, Dr. Hansen said, winter temperature records show about one degree Celsius of additional warming — a seemingly small amount, but disastrous for the sand eels.” (NY Times) The hypothesis is that warmer waters of the current state of the AMO either directly cause a decline in sand eel populations, or move the sand eel populations to different, more northern,  areas.

Well, sort of…..

The 2014 RSPB report informs us that:

“The sand eel recruitment collapse observed in parts of the North Sea appears to be associated with warming seas and changes in zooplankton abundance and distribution. Zooplankton distributions are determined by oceanographic conditions such as sea temperature and the timing of stratification, with higher temperatures associated with northward shifts in Calanus finmarchicus [populations].  Sand eel recruitment is therefore likely to be reduced by warming seas, acting in part via zooplankton availability. “

Here he (or she) is:


Calanus finmarchicus is about twice the size of a grain of sugar and is the primary food item for sand eels.  As every marine biologist knows, the cold arctic waters allow for abundant populations of zooplankton– that why whales go there to feed.

When the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO)  shifts from its cool phase to its warm phase, as it did in the mid-1990s, the plankton populations shift further north to where the waters are a bit cooler.  That’s bad for the sandeels at the southern edges of their range.

The NY Times article is in the “Climate” section — which means every story must be about Anthropogenic Climate Change — even if it has to be made up.  There is a climate factor, but the factor is not AGW, it is the cyclic climatic feature known as the AMO.

So, in the predator- prey natural world, puffins (and many other sea birds and piscivorous –fish-eating– fish) eat sand eels and depend on their abundance for the next generation of chicks to be recruited as adults.   Sandeels eat Calanus finmarchus and depend on their abundance sustain high populations numbers.


Population dynamics are very complicated and very complex.  This is just the top layer of the complexity onion — puffins depend on sand eels during the breeding season to feed their young. But, especially around the UK, humans have been overfishing  the sand eels in some areas, causing a sandeel collapse.  Local populations of puffins were hit hard.  But they have now have stopped fishing so many sandeels (used for pet food and fertilizer) by establishing limits and marine protected areas…. but they also stopped fishing so many of the species that eat the sand eels, so those sandeel-eating fish are now more abundant and eat more sandeels, leaving fewer sandeels for the seabirds, including the puffins.  At the same time, the warm phase of the AMO is still on, though it is beginning to decline.

Predator-Prey is a interesting little set of non-linear equations, but can be simplified and simulated to look at bit like this:


The prey, in our case sandeels, decrease in numbers (starting at time 7 and decreasing through to 11) and the subsequent decrease in the predator (think our problematic puffins) is lagged by a bit,  they continue to increase  but then begin to decline as well.  [sentence edited after publication- kh] So here’s our AMO chart:


Around 1995 or so, the AMO shifts from cold to warm peaking at about 2008. That shift causes a decline of available Calanus finmarchicus (which, along with the other cold water plankton, shift north) which,  with a time lag then starts a decline in their predator the sandeels, and with another time lag, we begin to see a decline in sea bird numbers, including puffins.


The maybe results from our uncertainty about the population numbers of all three species, but there have been good counts of puffins at some of their smaller, well researched  rookeries in the UK.

Birdlife International has declared the puffins “endangered” based on projections of steep declines in population numbers based on climate modelsof future warming.  Of course, their declaration is bogus — the Atlantic Puffin has been declared VULNERABLE — on the IUCN Red List.  The definition of the classification vulnerable  is define in the booklet “IUCN Red List categories and criteria” as:


“A taxon is Vulnerable when the best available evidence indicates that it meets any of the criteria A to E for Vulnerable (see Section V), and it is therefore considered to be facing a high risk of extinction in the wild.”

The only criteria A to E that puffins qualify under is:

“E. Quantitative analysis showing the probability of extinction in the wild is at least 50% within 10 years or three generations, whichever is the longer (up to a maximum of 100 years).”

“Probability of extinction is at least 50% within 10 years or three generations”…?

I don’t want to be rude, but someone has got to be kidding someone on that classification.  How many Atlantic Puffins do think there are in the world?

IUCN shows populations at “The European population is estimated to be 4,770,000-5,780,000 pairs, which equates to 9,550,000-11,600,000 mature individuals (BirdLife International 2015).”   Eleven million puffins.

In Iceland, there are more puffins than people. “Though some puffin colonies are prospering, in Iceland, where the largest population of Atlantic puffins is found, their numbers have dropped from roughly seven million individuals to about 5.4 million.” (NY Times)   They are guessing, of course, at the numbers.  But we can accept that there is some decline.  After all, “The puffin is the most common bird in Iceland,” said Erpur Snaer Hansen, acting director of the South Iceland Nature Research Center. “It’s also the most hunted one.”

That’s right, the iconic emblematic Icelandic Puffin is so threatened with extinction that it is the island nation’s most hunted bird.

“During a recent stop at Lundey Island, Iceland, Dr. Hansen encountered jovial hunters who had killed hundreds of the birds and were carrying them toward their boats to be sold to restaurants that mainly serve the meat to curious tourists.”

“Hunters with long nets can be seen tooling around Grimsey Island in the summer, leaving behind piles of bird carcasses, the breast meat stripped away. Iceland has restricted the annual harvest, but hunting “is accelerating the decline,” Dr. Hansen said.”  (NY Times)

In Iceland, the locals have a little side industry of killing thousands of breeding puffins at a time, thus dooming their chicks in their nest holes.  Iceland has ”restricted” the annual harvest, but not eliminated it.

Another quote, the bottom line:  “There are still millions of Atlantic puffins, but their plentiful colonies are deceiving, Dr. Hansen said. “These birds are long lived, so you don’t just see them plummeting down,” he said. In the long run, he warned, “It’s not sustainable.”

Dr. Annette L. Fayet’s paper on puffin migration, ”Ocean-wide Drivers of Migration Strategies and Their Influence on Population Breeding Performance in a Declining Seabird” details the complexity of population dynamics of puffins and, like Dr. Hansen, expresses concern that “Although we cannot investigate changes in migratory paths, environmental conditions, and breeding productivity over time with our current dataset, our findings suggest that large puffin colonies may not be sustainable anymore, perhaps because of long-term changes in environmental conditions near the breeding or wintering grounds, affecting the birds’ ability to both refuel in winter and feed their offspring in summer.”

Not only do we have to contend with Predator-Prey non-linearities, we have even more basic non-linearity in general population dynamics, when a population is up against the edge of stability:


(link for  more info on this modified image)

If these huge colonies of puffins have been sustained through 30-100 year conditions, they might look like the second graph above, a bit wobbly, but essentially stable.  Any major change in the parameters affecting their survival can kick such a borderline population over into a wild oscillation — graphs three and four — which may be what we are seeing now or into a totally chaotic pattern.   The uncontrollable factors mentioned in the stories and research papers on puffin populations, combined in various combinations at different locales,  make population prediction nearly impossible.

The primary researcher, Dr. Annette Fayet, is not responsible for the phony climate change accusations.  Her research is serious and taken on a whole properly represents the incredible complexity of the population dynamics and inter-relationships between environmental conditions, predator-prey factors, colony size and migration and feeding patterns.    When she points out “that large puffin colonies may not be sustainable anymore”, there is no assumed blame.

As a thought experiment, imagine you are a zookeeper in a zoo the size of Iceland, and have the task of finding enough fish of the right size conveniently close-by to feed 5.5 million puffins and their newly hatched chicks for several months.   That is the magnitude of the problem facing the puffin colony in Iceland.

It seems that some Atlantic Puffin colonies have declined — and we don’t really know why.  It could be nothing — just a wobble in the chaos of coupled population dynamics.

Like so many other things blamed on Global Warming/Climate Change, this is another trumped up story, mingled with misunderstandings about serious components of the Earth’s climate system, such as the AMO.


What can we do?

If the UK wants to help puffin numbers to recover, then they need to quit netting up all the sandeels and turning them into cat food and fertilizer.  I give them credit,  they have made some regulatory progress on this front with Marine Protected Areas and catch limits, which is laudable.

If Iceland is worried about the puffins, the first thing they can do is the forbid hunting them at breeding time.  Puffins are not a necessary part of the Icelandic diet, they are a “food fad” item for tourists.

Like so many of the well-advertised-by-activists “threatened” species, the first step that mankind can take to preserve them is simple:

Quit intentionally slaughtering them.

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Author’s Comment Policy:

Happy to try to answer your questions or point you to more detailed information by way of web links.

I am very interested in population dynamics, particularly in the linkage of population dynamics and chaos theory.  I am a big fan of admitting when we don’t know the causes of physical and biological phenomena — always better to say “We don’t really know” than to offer guesses under the pretense of greater understanding than we possess.

Don’t bother asking me what I think has caused declines in some puffin populations — I don’t know either.  I’d be pleased to hear your ideas though.

Ten points to the first person to point out the literary reference in the title.

# # # # #

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Sweet Old Bob
October 5, 2018 3:16 pm

Oh no ! It’s worse than we thought…. again !
(Still ? )

Old England
Reply to  Sweet Old Bob
October 6, 2018 1:56 am

The RSPB report which tried to blame sand eel decline on ‘climate change’led to 2 separate studies, one by the UK Government and one by the Scottish parliament.

Both studies unequivocally found that the decline in Sand Eel populations was a direct result of overfishing for them by Scandinavian fisherment – climate change had no role in it at all.

That however did not stop Edingburgh University publishing a paper earlier this year which blamed the decline in the Shag population, a marine bird, on the decline in Sand Eel populations. It then assumed that the Sand Eel decline was ‘most likely’ (that infamous weasel phrase so beloved by the climate alarmism community) as a result of warming seas around the Scottish coast.

Clearly the researchers at Edinburgh failed (or perhaps chose not?) to look at the well publicised government studies proving it was overfishing and not Climate Change.

I raised this with them and the publisher of their Paper – once I pointed out that they had ignored / overlooked the government studies and thus should withdraw or revise their paper they refused to discuss it with me further……..

The climate change bandwagon rolls on with one piece of flawed ‘research’ after another …. but I suppose it keeps their funds flowing in.

Reply to  Kip Hansen
October 7, 2018 10:47 am

IIRC the first time this ‘scare’ did the (UK) rounds it led to well funded studies that ‘discovered’ that they actually spend the winter up in the North Atlantic. So returning numbers depend heavily upon the weather up there.

This was a valuable result of (radio tagged) study but it, the origional scare, was one of those ‘so, global warming kills Puffins but you don’t even know where they spend a large chunk of their lives! ‘ moments.

Louis Hooffstetter
Reply to  Old England
October 7, 2018 7:01 pm

As a general rule, if we humans want sustainable fisheries around the world, we should minimize harvesting creatures near the bottom of the food chain. This includes sandeels, menhaden (bunker), sardines, shrimp, krill, etc. And we should pay attention to the work of Russ George of the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation. Regardless of what you may think of Russ George, he has proven that ocean fertilization can and does work if done carefully/correctly.

Gerald Franke
October 5, 2018 3:26 pm

If a screenplay can be a literary source, then I will have to go with ‘The Trouble with Tribbles’.

Reply to  Gerald Franke
October 5, 2018 3:38 pm

And our winner is: Gerald Franke — awarded the full ten points for the correct answer and a bonus five points for such a rapid win! Congratulations, Gerald!

Reply to  Gerald Franke
October 5, 2018 4:07 pm

The puffins are so plentiful on some islands that when Disney was filming some of the movie, The Last Jedi, there was an issue with the trouble of puffins flying into scenes. So the created the Porgs because it was easier than erasing them.

David Chappell
October 5, 2018 3:32 pm

The Puffin Problem by Lori Doody. Either that or Thomas the Tank Engine has emphysema.

Reply to  David Chappell
October 5, 2018 3:57 pm

And Runner-up Prize, five points, to David Chappell
for the delightful new book, The Puffin Problem by Lori Doody.

I’ll get a copy to read to my grandchildren!

October 5, 2018 3:33 pm

Canada’s #climatebarbie thinks the puffins big issue is that they’re lost. They belong in the antarctic with the rest of the penguins.

Reply to  Greg
October 5, 2018 3:42 pm

Greg ==> Well, try this:

Alcidae – Auks, Murres, Puffins. The Alcidae family includes the auks, puffins, and murres. The birds in this family look a lot like penguins. … Like penguins, they are very good swimmers and divers, but unlike penguins, they can fly.

However, puffins are only found in the far northern hemisphere.

Gary Pearse
Reply to  Kip Hansen
October 5, 2018 5:54 pm

I thought the Auk was flightless?

comment image
The Great Auk – Pinguinis impennis

IIRC there was a news story many years ago of frozen puffins raining down on the rooves of St. John’s, Newfoundland in a hail storm.

Reply to  Kip Hansen
October 6, 2018 12:39 am

The Great Auk is also lifeless.

“The last colony of great auks lived on Geirfuglasker (the “Great Auk Rock”) off Iceland. This islet was a volcanic rock surrounded by cliffs that made it inaccessible to humans, but in 1830, the islet submerged after a volcanic eruption, and the birds moved to the nearby island of Eldey, which was accessible from a single side. When the colony initially was discovered in 1835, nearly fifty birds were present. Museums, desiring the skins of the great auk for preservation and display, quickly began collecting birds from the colony. The last pair, found incubating an egg, was killed there on 3 June 1844, on request from a merchant who wanted specimens, with Jón Brandsson and Sigurður Ísleifsson strangling the adults and Ketill Ketilsson smashing the egg with his boot.”

October 5, 2018 3:50 pm


If you use readily available, commercial detergents in your washing machine or dishwasher and happen to open the door mid cycle (not recommended with a front loading washing machine, but a dishwasher is usually OK) you will get the distinct smell of fish.

That’s because the pretty rectangular tablets/powders/sachets etc. we are sold are a composition of mostly fish waste, used as filler to convince us all that we are buying something substantial, and a tiny proportion of chemicals that actually do the cleaning.

Now, I have no idea if the fish guts are genuinely waste from fish processing factories, or whether the manufacturers actually go fishing for the animals to produce the fillers, but it strikes me that there are better uses for fish guts than washing our clothes and dishes in them.

It might alleviate the need to go fishing for sand eels thereby saving the Puffins. Although if they are being slaughtered by the locals for consumption, I guess it’s a bit like the Japanese and whale blubber, it’s going to be very difficult to stop.

Reply to  HotScot
October 5, 2018 4:02 pm

Hot Scot ==> That’s a pretty wild story….I’d love to see the background on that.

Reply to  HotScot
October 6, 2018 3:28 am

uh? i had heard peanut shells as filler and that seems more likely than fish waste frankly.
if you could smell it at halfway then it would be there at the end also
pheeewey yuck

Pamela Matlack-Klein
Reply to  HotScot
October 7, 2018 5:26 am

Years ago a Shackley dealer told me that Tide is full of peanut shells, used as a filler. Don’t know if that is true either.

October 5, 2018 4:16 pm

Are the poor Puffins doomed by the UNPRECEDENTED ARCTIC WARMING phenomenon?

Reply to  chaamjamal
October 5, 2018 4:25 pm

chaamjamal ==> Nah, they are doomed because the sea fleas have gone for a polar vacation.

October 5, 2018 4:23 pm

Nothing better than sautéed minke whale with melted cheese and grated puffin. Ask Homo Erectus.

Joe Wagner
Reply to  ЯΞ√ΩLUT↑☼N
October 6, 2018 5:52 am

Gee, Thanks! Now I’m hungry…

October 5, 2018 4:23 pm

So my nomination of the song Puffin’ the Magic Dragon is not going to smoke out a prize?

Reply to  RACookPE1978
October 5, 2018 4:28 pm

RACook ==> Sorry pal, good try, A for Effort!

October 5, 2018 4:25 pm

Nothing better than sautéed minke whale, melted cheese and grated puffin. Ask Homo Erectus.

Olly Hendrik
October 5, 2018 4:25 pm

Nothing better than sautéed minke whale, melted cheese and grated puffin. Ask Homo Erectus.

Ian Magness
October 5, 2018 4:26 pm

A few points:
– there are two sandeel species off Britain and both are upper pelagic and/or intertidal. Whilst oceanic cycles may therefore have an effect, the fish are subject to temperature swings of greater magnitude on a daily basis. So, are the oceanic cycles really that important?
– a number of UK biologists have voiced concern that higher oceanic temperatures have lowered zooplankton populations. However, if you pin them down, they simply don’t have the research in longevity or geographic spread of zooplankton to justify that statement. In any event, puffin populations have been much more affected to the north-east of Britain, than to the west – which hardly looks like global warming of sea temperatures;
– it isn’t Britain that’s the problem as our sandeel fishery is small these days. By contrast, the Danes harvest, literally, hundreds of thousands of tons from the North Sea this year AND their quota (dictated by the EU) has just been increased by, from memory, another 80,000 tons. NB these are wild fish and no attempt is made to breed the fish to repair the damage done.
The bottom line on all this is that until and unless EU countries stop harvesting the best part of a million tons of an absolutely crucial part of the regional marine food chain (for fish as well as birds), and the natural ecology is restored, any analysis of any other factors like temperature and zooplankton density is probably a waste of time because it will only show, at best, a small part of the story.

Reply to  Ian Magness
October 5, 2018 4:34 pm

Ian ==> Yes, “sea temperature” is a Red Herring in the puffin story — it is really the lessened abundance of the zooplankton (Calanus finmarchicus) due to the shift in the AMO that is the biological point, and this applies mostly to the Icelandic populations. See the link to the RSPB report for the North Sea specifics and the local solutions.

There is a huge problem with oceanic fisheries — basic vacuuming up all the fish they can find anywhere. That leads to downstream problems with other species.

Thanks for the EU perspective.

Ian Magness
Reply to  Kip Hansen
October 5, 2018 4:52 pm

Very sad to say, but the RSPB (which is otherwise a wonderful and important conservation organisation) is as deluded as the BBC and others about AGW. They can only view the subject through religious lenses and don’t or can’t analyse the subject rationally. Their work, and resulting AGW impact statements, cannot therefore be trusted.

Reply to  Ian Magness
October 5, 2018 6:15 pm

Yep, this would be the same RSPB that thinks bird shredders are a really good idea for saving birds.

Thomas Englert
Reply to  philincalifornia
October 5, 2018 8:41 pm

I understand UK has many huge wind farms. The RSPB thinks a planned new mega-farm for Scotland may kill up to 1000 puffins per week if built. Other birds would also be affected by the wind farm. Can’t find any stats on total puffins killed per year by UK wind farms at sea.

It’s always easier to blame AGW.

Martin Howard Keith Brumby
Reply to  philincalifornia
October 5, 2018 10:50 pm

It has been reported that the RSPB gets a £10 kickback from every member signing up to Ruinable Energy offers advertised in their magazine.
Surely not!?

Gerry, England
Reply to  philincalifornia
October 7, 2018 4:18 am

The problems with putting a number on wildlife killed by windmills are:
1. The sites onshore are private and so access is restricted, especially to those who might want to show that the landowners money-making windmill is bad.
2. Offshore windmills while being open access require a bit more effort to visit.
3. Nature’s clean up machines will soon note that free food is available around windmills either onshore or offshore and remove the evidence.
4. Putting up monitoring cameras won’t be allowed by operators as they don’t want evidence seen.

Reply to  Kip Hansen
October 5, 2018 6:52 pm

Kip, Fisheries in the eastern Atlantic-North Sea have been studied by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea since 1902. They provide scientific advice to various marine fisheries management group, individual countries and the EU. One might believe they know enough today to properly manage fisheries throughout the region including providing enough stock for the ecosystem. Yet even with the ICES research properly regulation of every fish has been a war. North Sea Herring is a classic example and there have been tons written on the subject. The importance of North Sea Herring cannot be overstated. It fed most of the nations bordering the North Sea for several centuries. Yet by the 1970s the fishery had all but collapsed due not to climate change but overfishing.

Like in the western Atlantic with the Northern Cod stock off Newfoundland, the North Sea Herring fishermen and governments used every excuse except excessive fishing mortality to blame for the stock’s decline and ultimate commercial collapse. Before the Northern Cod stock did collapse they tried to blame global warming as their last excuse. Some fishery leaders admitted that they were grasping at straws, anything to deny it was overfishing. Few people appreciate that like the North Sea Herring fishery, the North Cod stock had been fished since the 15th Century.

Reply to  Edwin
October 6, 2018 7:14 am

The importance of North Sea Herring cannot be overstated. It fed most of the nations bordering the North Sea for several centuries. Yet by the 1970s the fishery had all but collapsed due not to climate change but overfishing.
Yes and there was a post WWII boom in the N Sea herring fishery due to lack of fishing activity during the war years. The herring population was so huge that there was a belief that it couldn’t possibly be overfished, however between the 40s and 70s the population collapsed by a factor of over 100!
Whitby on the yorkshire coast was a center of the post-war herring industry and there would be hundreds of boats in the harbor during the herring season. When I fished there during the 70s there were none. One of our group caught a herring on one of our trips in the early 80s, something we hadn’t seen for over a decade. The commercial fishery was banned for 5 years in order to start a recovery. Prior to the 70s kippers were a staple in the UK, after over a decade of nonavailability the market had collapsed and didn’t recover. The fishery scientists saw what was happening and advised precautionary management of the fishery however commercial interests prevailed until the collapse occurred. The Dutch weren’t very happy when the UK closed the fishery in 1977.

Reply to  Phil.
October 6, 2018 2:49 pm

Overall there’s been a significant recovery but the market in the UK changed a lot, people no longer eat kippers! As you can see in the graphs below you’ll see there was a second drop and controls had to be re-established. Despite the huge population it’s a bit unstable at such high exploitation because of recruitment variability so they have to keep an eye on it. I understand that the southern population near the Straits of Dover was rather slower to recover, maybe not such good breeding conditions there?

comment image

October 5, 2018 4:35 pm

The North sea sandeels seemed to have had a good year this year. lf my day trip to Scarborough this summer was anything to go by. As l walked along the beach by the water line there seemed to be plenty of them around.
Kids were catching them with ease with their nets and there was nearly as many seagulls as people on the beach that were looking to feast on them. l even managed to pick one of them up “the little buggers don’t half wriggle” and feed it to a seagull.

Mike McMillan
Reply to  taxed
October 5, 2018 9:36 pm

Heartless, absolutely heartless.

You can kiss off any chance of a Supreme Court seat.

October 5, 2018 4:44 pm

It does’nt matter what it is, its going to be global warming come climate change. Of course soon it will be all about Global cooling, then we will still see the same so called climate scientists. It will be the 1970 all over again.

Juts make sure that the government grants keep coming, I like my present life style.


Noah Vingler
October 5, 2018 4:47 pm

What method is used to catch tons of sand eels and is it damaging to the sand eels habitat?

Reply to  Kip Hansen
October 5, 2018 8:56 pm

It’s trawling with very fine mesh nets on the top of sandbanks, last I heard primarily by the Danes.

Gary Mount
October 5, 2018 4:56 pm

The Trouble With Popplers :
The Planet Express crew discovers a delicious snack food on a remote planet, but Leela has a change of heart when she discovers a disturbing fact about the snack food that endangers Earth.

Gary Mount
Reply to  Gary Mount
October 5, 2018 7:52 pm

Unfortunately I got the title wrong of the Futurama episode. It’s”The Problem With Popplers”, which more closely matches this articles title.

John Tillman
October 5, 2018 4:59 pm

Scheme to resurrect the great auk, using razorbill embryos:

The great auk and razorbill are closely enough related that they really ought to be assigned to the same genus. Auk DNA retrieved from stored specimens or fossils would be genetially edited into the genomes of razorbill embryos, which would then be implanted in the egg of a larger bird, probably a goose.

John Tillman
Reply to  Kip Hansen
October 5, 2018 5:37 pm

I hope the researchers can pull it off, but even a successful result won’t be a pure auk. Even if they were able to insert every single difference between auks and razorbills, the birds’ mitochondrial DNA will still be razorbill. Auk mtDNA was probably pretty close to razorbill, maybe as close as human and chimp, but still different.

Reply to  John Tillman
October 5, 2018 10:42 pm

Who cares if it is a bit different? This is for the show. And it would create one more vulnerable species more, plus a new classification, ‘tinct.

I’m in! /sarc

John Tillman
Reply to  Hugs
October 6, 2018 1:14 pm

It would I grant you be more auky than the proposed reborn mammoth would be mammothy.

Great auk looks like a flightless, scaled up razorbill.

Reply to  John Tillman
October 6, 2018 2:23 pm

No reason why you couldn’t change the mtDNA it’s only ~16,500 bases.
Even if you kept the razorbill mtDNA the cell should function as an auk.

John Tillman
Reply to  Phil.
October 6, 2018 2:55 pm

About three years ago, a new technique for editing mtDNA was tried with mice, and apparently worked, although I haven’t followed up on the progress of the procedure.

So, yes, you’re right, if the resurrectionists wanted and could afford to go to such lengths.

And, sure, the cell would work with razorbill mtDNA.

I don’t know, but suppose that a lot of the genetic difference between the two species is in control genes rather than protein-coding genes, since great auks were so much larger than razorbills but otherwise appear so similar.

John Tillman
Reply to  Phil.
October 6, 2018 3:03 pm

I guess under the strict definition of a “gene” as a protein-coding sequence, I should say control sequences rather than genes.

Reply to  Phil.
October 6, 2018 3:23 pm

Most of the changes in mtDNA is in a about 400bp region known as the hyper variable region which doesn’t code for anything. That’s the region that’s used for identification in humans. There are a few mtDNA genetic problems where the mother’s mtDNA is faulty and the mother is unable to have a live baby. In some countries (not USA) this has been treated by taking a donated egg (which has the donor’s mtDNA) and implanting a fertilized nucleus from the parents. This results in a genetic child to be born, only the mtDNA is from the donor, these are sometimes known as ‘three parent children’.

John Tillman
Reply to  Phil.
October 6, 2018 4:09 pm

Human mtDNA is so similar, compared say to variability in chimps, that it hardly matters, IMHO.

Heather has two mothers. And a father!

bit chilly
October 5, 2018 5:47 pm

one of the biggest issues regarding the success of puffin breeding on a yearly basis in the mid north sea from the forth area to aberdeenshire is the weather once the chicks have hatched. i have noticed in years with stormy early summer periods the adult puffins appear to leave the nesting areas early. in years with long settled periods they can be there until late august.

i suspect in the years with lots of rough weather it is harder for them to keep the chicks fed often enough and they die. this area sees the water colour up quite badly for miles out to sea during storms and it can take a long time to clear.the puffins feed by sight and i think they have to travel much further afield to hunt. this is for the mainland based breeding birds. i have no experience of the island based would require checking the nesting burrows to confirm. this is a fairly small area so i understand it will in no way be representative of the wider uk population.

the sandeel population is not one homogenous group either.there are several different area stocks and even on a small scale local level the populations of these can vary from year to year, again i think the weather plays a big part. without a doubt the larger main populations such as those on the dogger bank and wider north sea were massively depleted by commercial fishing. given there will be 300,000 – 500,000 sandeel per tonne and in the late nineties up to a million tonnes were taken in one year it is not hard to imagine the effect on all the marine species that predate upon them.

one other factor that doesn’t get taken into account enough is the “clean up” of the waters around the uk. the closing of all shortfall sewage outlet pipes along with the waste and offal from fish/animal processing plants. almost overnight the inshore biomass of various worm species, small/immature fish ,including sandeel and some shellfish dropped rapidly. in the few areas left where there is some leakage of raw sewage the increased biomass of the aforementioned species can still be seen.

the reason the majority of the small prey species have high fecundity is due to the multitude of natural effects,including predation by man, that can effect population levels. currently uk herring stocks are on the increase (they appear to fluctuate with the amo,though commercial fishing appears to have at least as big an influence) and sandeel are known to eat herring larvae,so a drop in sandeel could be a boost to another prey species. it is a complex picture, but i doubt anthropogenic co2 plays much of a role.

Reply to  bit chilly
October 7, 2018 3:36 am

I’ve heard similar story about sewer discharge underwater. In the immediate area of the output pipe there is a decline in life, but after the minimum dilution is reached, everything blooms. I guess an unnatural increase in plant life is bad. Like humans only subsistence existence is good, except that as Stossel found ecotourists seem to tire of it quickly and go to more luxurious accommodations.

Reply to  Ian Random
October 7, 2018 7:51 am

Like the toxic algal blooms in SW Florida this year leading to mass die-offs of fish, dolphins, manatees etc.

Reply to  Phil.
October 7, 2018 8:11 am

Phil ==> Think you’ve conflated a natural occurrence with a man-made problem. The SW Florida problem is believed to be exacerbated (but not caused) by agricultural runoff — mostly from sugar cane plantations.

October 5, 2018 5:56 pm

“the first thing they can do is the forbid hunting them”..

Well it certainly worked for the polar bears…….

Julian Flood
October 5, 2018 6:26 pm

I believe that feed for farmed salmon is a major consumer of the sand eel catch, with the omega 3 oil the reason. While most of the feed can be plant-derived, the omega 3 is either easier or cheaper from eels.

There is a solution : engineer a crop plant which produces omega 3. But Green zealots disapprove of genetic engineering so we’ll just have to let the puffins starve.


r h
October 5, 2018 7:50 pm

First global warming made the polar bear go extinct and now Iceland is down to their last 10 million Puffins. Oh the humanity.

October 5, 2018 9:28 pm

This is a genuine question: Does the RSPB have a position on wind-farms?

Reply to  Jones
October 5, 2018 9:30 pm

Oops, soz. Philincalifornia above already answered that one.

October 5, 2018 9:39 pm

Why are they so alarmed at extinctions of colorful, pretty, furry creatures in faraway places that cannot be seen and checked out by most?

How about a ‘save the plankton’ movement.

Reply to  Tim
October 5, 2018 11:29 pm

… and crows, ravens, blackbirds and starlings and shags and cormorants – @blackbirdlivesmatter

October 5, 2018 9:48 pm

“Probability of extinction is at least 50% within 10 years or three generations”…?

I don’t want to be rude, but someone has got to be kidding someone on that classification. How many Atlantic Puffins do think there are in the world?

I would remind you of the fate of the Passenger Pigeons.
“In 1871 their great communal nesting sites had covered 850 square miles of Wisconsin’s sandy oak barrens—136 million breeding adults, naturalist A.W. Schorger later estimated. After that the population plummeted until, by the mid-1890s, wild flock sizes numbered in the dozens rather than the hundreds of millions (or even billions).”

Reply to  Phil.
October 6, 2018 12:03 am

Yeah Phil., carbon dioxide just ain’t what it used to be.

Reply to  Phil.
October 6, 2018 7:14 am

Phil ==> Massive slaughter by humans….it could happen to puffins
if hunting them was allowed on the scale of pigeon hunting. The Icelanders have to use long-handled nets and catch them one at a time….

The Passenger Pigeon is a story similar to the slaughter of bison — commercial interests get involved, work up a market and then demand more and more product to fill orders. As the product becomes scarce, prices go up, hunters increase efforts to take advantage….

Not likely for puffins — even in Iceland where hunting is still allowed.

Gary Pearse
Reply to  Kip Hansen
October 6, 2018 9:19 am

Kip, yeah and there are only ~300,000 Icelanders, too! Farmers and fisherman are probably too busy to mess with this. They’ve lived with these birds for about 1200yrs or more. A licence to hunt with limits is a well-known control.

Reply to  Kip Hansen
October 6, 2018 2:34 pm

Destruction of the breeding habitat was also a factor. The point was that the original population was in the billions and extinction took place over a few decades.

October 5, 2018 10:03 pm

Kip, The Perils of Pauline? Do I win?

Reply to  Damon
October 6, 2018 7:21 am

Damon ==> Great suggestion….classic book, several classic movies….8 points for Best Classical Guess!

Stephen Richards
October 6, 2018 1:15 am

I love these massive figures. accurate to one decimal place and ranging out to the billions.

Just imagine. Someone actually counted them all. 😉

October 6, 2018 1:48 am

comment image

Reply to  Anoneumouse
October 6, 2018 7:23 am

Anoneumouse ==> Thanks for the image!

Readers ==> Click the link above if the image is not showing for you. Worth it!

October 6, 2018 5:35 am

My guess is The Problem with Forever.

Reply to  Ron Clutz
October 6, 2018 7:28 am

Ron Clutz ==> Interesting choice…a harlequin teen angst novella. 7 points, Gutsy Answer!

October 6, 2018 7:48 am

The Trouble with Tribbles?

Reply to  Kip Hansen
October 6, 2018 6:11 pm

Story of my life

October 6, 2018 9:36 am

I’ve never personally had a problem with puffins.
It seems we have a mutual agreement…..

Reply to  Kip Hansen
October 6, 2018 12:38 pm

I imagine the stock of terrier breeders would go thru the roof 🙂
Fearless canines that seem to enjoy the kill.

October 6, 2018 11:21 am

Have been twice on a roundtrip in Iceland: puffin is a delicious meat. Not so fish-like as whale meat (eaten there too), which – in my opinion – is disgusting. Still have nightmares when I remember to be forced to drink whale oil in my youth, very healthy for vitamins in winters. Not so healthy for the [whale] population of that time…

October 7, 2018 12:34 am

To all Puffins “What did you do during the depths of the LIA?”

October 7, 2018 4:33 am

Great article Kip – thanks!
This all comes under the heading of monetising chaos.
Climate changes due to internal chaotic dynamics?
Monetise it into political capital to bash your capitalist enemies.
Populations of living organisms change from chaotic population dynamics?
Ditto – monetise it!

Craig from Oz
October 7, 2018 7:06 pm

I too have a problem with Puffins, but usually only when I have to go up stairs.

Graham White
October 8, 2018 5:05 am

A major aspect of this story which seems to have been missed above, is that the EU has allowed the Danes to take around 1,000,000 tonnes of sandeels from the North Sea, every year for the last 30 years or so. One of the main profit streams from this annual pillaging of the North Sea, is the manufacture of SALMON FEED PELLETS.
Scotland produces 158,000 tonnes of farmed salmon annually. It takes around 2kg of wild fish – made into pellets – to produce 1kg of farmed salmon. It is a true global industry – so millions of tonnes of wild fish are being turned into fish pellets every year. That is why the puffins of Northumberland, East of Scotland, Orkney and Shetland have crashed, but those of Pembrokeshire – on the West Coast of Wales – are doing just fine. There is no sand eel fishery off the Welsh coast.

Reply to  Graham White
October 8, 2018 3:54 pm

I had a small local community that sprayed their wastewater sludge into the surrounding forest. It was Federal forest, and after 25 years of the spray practice the feds said the endangered chub may be harmed from the sludge spray … so please stop it.

In looking for cheap alternative to surface application (spraying), the City was looking at dewatering and bagging for landfill disposal. My suggestion was that since said city had no industrial activities, let’s just dewater, modify to pellets, nutrient test/verify, and sell to the feds (different dept) for feed at the hatchery downriver.

I knew the idea wouldn’t get any traction, because waste from people sludge is yucky, but it got the main point across … food is food.

John Tillman
Reply to  Graham White
October 8, 2018 4:10 pm

Let’s hope that the Royal Navy defends the North Sea against Dutch and EU pillaging once Brexit kicks in.

Scottish salmon farmers can buy smelt pellets or chopped fish from the US. Native to the Pacific Coast of North America, they were introduced into the Great Lakes early in the last century. As non-natives, they’d make great salmon feed.

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