Butterfish is a big problem for little puffins

Scientists working at the Eastern Egg Rock puffin colony on the coast of Maine, which is supported by Audubon Society, have recently uncovered a worrying trend – a decline in puffin fledgling survival rates. Steven Kress, a veteran ornithologist, explains: “Most seabirds catch fish and then regurgitate them to feed their young. However, puffins drape the fish that they catch over their beaks before dropping them into the mouths of their chicks. They are like little fishing fleets going out every day before coming back with their catch of the day. Crucially, it is very easy to identify what they have caught. You can see it hanging from their beaks.”

As to the cause of this harmful change in diet, Kress points to the dangers posed by climate change. “As the Arctic heats up, seas in higher latitudes are getting warmer and warmer. As a result, populations of fish that normally thrive in more southerly waters are moving into these more northerly waters.”

The butterfish is an example and it is having a real impact on the puffin. Their chicks can only fit smaller, narrower fish, such as white hake –into their beaks and they have trouble swallowing larger, oval-shaped species like butterfish. The problem is made worse because puffin parents don’t tear up or partially digest the fish they catch for their young. “There is a YouTube clip of a young puffin trying, and failing, to swallow a butterfish,” said Kress. “The tragedy is that the puffins are surrounded by plenty of fish. This is the ocean’s equivalent of the canary in the coal mine. It’s telling us that climate change will not just affect the distribution of fish round the world but there could be disastrous consequences for many different species of wildlife that depend on these fish for food, such as the puffin.”

shared via: www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/oct/02/butterfish-big-problem-for-little-puffins-eastern-egg-rock
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