Study Links Tufted Puffins Die-Off With Climate Crisis

Source: The Guardian/Patrick Barkham

Photo: Nic McPhee/Wikimedia Commons

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The death of thousands of tufted puffins in the Bering Sea may have been partly caused by the climate breakdown, according to a study.

Between 3,150 and 8,500 seabirds died over a four-month period from October 2016, with hundreds of severely emaciated carcasses washed up on the beaches of the Pribilofs Islands in the southern Bering Sea, 300 miles (480km) west of the Alaskan mainland.

Researchers believe the birds died of starvation partly caused by a loss of energy-rich prey species, which was triggered by increased sea and atmospheric temperatures, as well as reductions in winter sea ice recorded since 2014.

Tufted puffins breeding in the Bering Sea feed on fish and other marine invertebrates, which in turn feed on plankton. The loss of nutritious prey species caused by the climate crisis is also affecting populations of the Atlantic puffin around Britain and Iceland.

Researchers in the journal Plos One documented the Bering Sea “wreck”, or mass die-off, with the help of a citizen science programme in which tribal and community members on St Paul Island recovered more than 350 carcasses of adult birds in the process of moulting, a vulnerable moment in the bird’s lifecycle when they require plentiful food.

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Photo: Nic McPhee/Wikimedia Commons

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