Dead puffins wash up on Scottish shores

More than 100 dead puffins washed up across the northeast coast of Scotland, Orkney and Shetland over a few weeks near the end of 2021, making it one of the most significant reports of its kind in the UK for the time of year over the past 50 years.


The cases of dead puffins have been recorded by the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH), which carries out long-term monitoring studies to detect the effects of environmental change on UK seabird populations. 


Dr Francis Daunt, seabird ecologist at UKCEH, said: “This is one of the most significant puffin ‘wrecks’ we’ve seen for this time of year since we began studying these fascinating seabirds almost 50 years ago. Many of the people who have found the birds say they are emaciated, which suggests there could be a problem within the birds' food supply.” 


Some of the birds found washed up in Orkney are adults, so there is a concern that this will have a negative effect on next year’s breeding numbers. 


Earlier in the year, in autumn 2021, several thousand guillemots and razorbills were found dead along the east coast of Great Britain: it is not known if the events are linked. 


UKCEH is working with the Marine Scotland directorate of Scottish Government, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, Edinburgh University, Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture, Natural England and DEFRA to investigate the earlier seabird deaths. Over 100 of the guillemots and razorbills have been tested for avian flu, with all tests coming back negative. The continued investigation is now focusing on two possible explanations: a significant failure of the marine food supply or toxic poisoning from algal blooms, as well as potentially a combination of both*. 


Dr Francis Daunt, continued: “It is worrying to now see puffins also washing up dead and sick. We hope to be able to carry out post mortems on them as well.”