The Portland Press-Herald is in the midst of an excellent, in-depth series about changes happening in the Gulf of Maine due to acidification, invasive species, and other stresses – mostly a rise in sea temperatures: “Since 2004 the Gulf of Maine has warmed faster than anyplace else on the planet save an area northeast of Japan.” The series is titled “Mayday: Gulf of Maine in Distress” and it makes a good case that this isn’t fear-mongering. .
Today’s article focuses on puffins, those delightful clownish seabirds that we tourists love to watch. In recent years they have been stressed by changes in fish populations caused by this warmer water:
In 2012, the summer of the “ocean heat wave,” when temperatures in the Gulf of Maine exceeded anything in a historical record dating back to the Civil War. Herring, sand lance and other puffin prey apparently fled to colder depths, replaced by butterfish, a mid-Atlantic species fond of eating the jellyfish-like creatures called ctenophores, whose numbers exploded in the heated water.
The puffins at Eastern Egg Rock and two other offshore island sanctuaries piled butterfish at their chicks’ feet, but the hungry birds couldn’t fit the teardrop-shaped animals down their throats. Hundreds starved to death in burrows strewn with uneaten fish.
That’s an appalling image: Delightful little puffin chicks slowly starving to death as their frantic parents try to give them food. But the effects of climate change are appalling, which is why we need to think about them, even if we’d rather not.