Puffin Wreck & a Sea Rooster

They say that in London, you are never more than five meters away from a rat. The same could be said about puffins in Iceland during the summer, but it wouldn’t be true. I would have just made it up.


Puffins. I love them. Call them what you will—‘clowns of the sea,’ ‘penguins of the north,’ ‘sea roosters,’ or whatever; I love them. They are such individual characters with their theatrical eye make-up, über-colorful beaks, brazen white chests and bright orange feet.

Puffins have become a major attraction in Iceland, with tourists flocking to see them, and puffins flocking the other way. Still, they remain a steadfast image of Iceland in the summer months. The ubiquitous photo of a puffin with a beak full of sandeels has adorned many a postcard. The record number of sandeel for one puffin—I’m told—is a substantial 62. That is going to take some beating.

It’s no secret that puffin meat is eaten in Iceland. I’ve tried some. Licences to hunt puffin are now strictly regulated, and may now become even more so. It’s not to everyone’s taste, though. I recall interviewing actor/musician Aleksa Palladino at last year’s Iceland Airwaves and watching her visibly change color when the thought of eating such a cute bird hit her.

This week though, there has been some terrible puffin-related news in the U.K. Thousands of dead puffins have been washed ashore on the U.K.’ s east coast from Aberdeenshire to Northumberland. Some of these are bound to have come from Iceland, the Faroe Islands and the U.K. itself. It’s the worst case of puffin deaths for 60 years.

The bad weather is being blamed for the puffin ‘wreck,’ as it is called. Puffins spend the winter months out at sea and prolonged bitter storms may have prevented the usually hardy birds from feeding, or it could be that the weather was just too much for their plumage to cope with. Whatever the reason, the sight of dead puffins being washed ashore in such numbers is upsetting, to say the least.

Puffins are already struggling. Their habitat is changing, and sand eel is becoming scarcer. Even in the Westman Islands where they have the world’s largest colony, numbers are in decline. This ‘wreck’ is bound to hit the puffin population, and their return to breeding sites late this month will show just how much impact the storms may have had.

Lets just hope that the puffins will be ok, but in the meantime, please stop calling them names. I mean, ‘sea rooster’. Whatever next.

Iceland Review Online version.