"Why should people sign?"
Because the puffins don't like being eaten!
Over recent years, a decreasing number of birds have shown up in the colonies, and local populations are in trouble with few chicks being raised. This is the case in the Faroe Islands:
Some summers the few Arctic terns that breed, leave their eggs and young to die. If the Kittiwakes have a few fledged young, the question is whether these young will survive through their first winter, since they start life in poor condition. At times, dead or half-dead, starved Puffins drift ashore on the beaches with the onshore wind.
2014 will mark the 10th year in a row with little to no food for the Faroese puffins. The local hunters have only caught breeding birds the last 10 years, since there haven’t been any young. This means an ever-bigger reduction in the population than would occur in normal bad-breeding years.
Calculations in Røst, Norway show that the puffins there decline by 7% per year. At that rate the Faroese puffins would be extinct around the year 2025 if the hunting goes on. Officially the puffins are protected now, but our volunteers on the ground in the Faroes still see “harvested” puffins in the villages.
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The slow growth and large fat stores characteristic of many pelagic seabird chicks might be an evolutionary adaptation to infrequent and unpredictable food provisioning by parents, while increased heat generation and insulation freed adults from brooding requirements.
It is one of nature’s great survival tactics, but relatively helpless, fat seabird chicks have always attracted hunter-gatherers. Historically, birds were taken for meat, eggs, skins, and down. With maybe the exception of skins, they are still “harvested” for these reasons but the methods have changed over time. More efficient tools have exposed seabirds to excessive exploitation.
By nature, most seabirds are already sensitive to adult mortality because they produce small clutch sizes and have delayed maturity, while also being exposed to extreme weather conditions. Until the 20th century, human communities were small and hunting was done primarily from non-motorized boats and so likely had only a limited impact on seabird populations. Since then, a growing human population, with mechanized transport and powerful guns, has increased the hunting pressure on seabird populations.
Seabirds are important “members” of the marine ecosystems. Seabird numbers can be used as indicators of fish stocks, or the health of the marine ecosystem at large.
Sadly seabirds are also among the most threatened “families” of birds on the planet. Most seabirds live for decades and reproduce slowly. The leading cause of mortality for healthy adult seabirds is incidental death in fishing gear. In Iceland, the Faroes’ Northern neighbor, approximately 120,000 birds die in gillnets annually. There are no figures for by-catch in the Faroese fishing industry.
There is a relatively new threat: large-scale, climate-related ecological changes have disrupted the food web in Nordic waters. The distribution of some of the marine food sources, upon which seabirds are dependent, is changing as a result of climate change. In the North Atlantic, a northward shift in the distribution of plankton and copepods is affecting the numbers and distribution of some fish species that are important for the seabirds, particularly sand eels. These changes are believed to be the cause of the massive breeding failures among seabirds in Iceland, the Faroes, Scotland, and Norway, that started in 2004.