Population Status Trends
North American puffin populations have, since the early 1900s, rebounded from near devastation, and are currently growing. The large colonies in Witless Bay, Newfoundland remain stable. In the Gulf of Maine, populations have steadily increased at Machias Seal Island, Petit Manan National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), Eastern Egg Rock, Seal Island NWR, and Matinicus Rock.
Atlantic Puffin populations drastically declined due to habitat destruction and exploitation for eggs, feathers, and meat during the 1800s and early 1900s. By 1901, all Maine colonies were virtually extirpated. Today, nearly all North American puffins nest in protected sanctuaries, where hunting is prohibited and puffin watching boat tours are popular attractions. Several historic populations in Maine have been restored as a result of the work of the National Audubon Society's Project Puffin
At sea in winter, puffins are vulnerable to depleted fish stocks and oil spills. In 1978, the Amoco Cadiz, the largest oil spill in history, killed about 1,400 Atlantic Puffins near Brittany, France. Another threat to puffins is human disturbance during breeding, which causes egg or chick abandonment. Predators such as Norway rats, escaped mink from mink-farms, and Herring and Great Black-backed gulls, have all caused puffin colony declines. Where predators are discouraged, puffin populations have increased.
In Newfoundland and Norway, over-fishing of herring and capelin has affected puffin populations. In Norway, herring depletion caused the Rost Island colony to fall from 119,700 to 43,160 puffins within a decade.
Ironically, over-fishing can benefit puffins. Prior to the 1990s, many puffins drowned in surface nets set for Atlantic salmon in Newfoundland; the collapse of commercial fisheries there ended this associated bycatch. If salmon and cod fisheries reopen in Newfoundland, "no fishing" zones around large puffin colonies would offer valuable protection. Small puffin colonies at the periphery of their range require resident stewards to discourage mammalian and avian predators, and reduce human disturbance. Other recommendations include long-term monitoring of key colonies, and further research on the puffins winter-at-sea life.