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article imageScientists discover where Atlantic puffins spend the winter

By Karen Graham     Feb 20, 2016 in Science
The Atlantic puffin, a colorful seabird and member of the Auk family, is the only puffin native to the Atlantic Ocean. But for years, scientists have tried to figure out where these "clowns of the sea" go in the winter.
With their bright overly large orange bill and awkwardness on land and in the air, Atlantic puffins are graceful swimmers. During the breeding season, starting in late spring, they spend their time in Iceland, Norway, Greenland, Newfoundland and many North Atlantic islands, and as far south as Maine in the West, and the British Isles in the East.
After the chicks are born, they go through a rather fast fledgling period of about six or seven weeks. Not too long after, it is time for the puffins to go to their winter grounds, but for many years, scientists have been trying to figure out just where they wintered. Did they go far south?
Atlantic Puffins on the Isle of Lunga  Scotland.
Atlantic Puffins on the Isle of Lunga, Scotland.
Steve Deger
Steve Kress is the founder of Project Puffin, and has spent more than 40 summers off the coast of Maine studying the birds. The fact that the birds disappeared for eight months out of the year baffled kress. In 2009, Kress and some members of the Audubon's Seabird Restoration Program tried attaching geolocators to some of the puffins.
It took two failed attempts, one with faulty data and the other a manufacturing glitch, before the team had success. In 2013-2014, the team collected some very valuable data from geolocators worn by 19 puffins.
Nearly fully fledged  a young puffin stays near its burrow on the Norwegian island of Runde  and is ...
Nearly fully fledged, a young puffin stays near its burrow on the Norwegian island of Runde, and is at risk of predation.
The winter journey of the Atlantic puffin
Data from the 19 puffins showed that at the end of summer in 2013, they headed off in two main directions. They start their journey, swimming north to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, spending about a month in Canada before moving again. The travelers then head south, going about 320 kilometers (199 miles) before arriving off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
"Their final destination is an epic, underwater landscape: home to New England's famed coral canyons, which go deeper than the Grand Canyon and huge submerged mountain ranges that stretch for hundreds of miles along the ocean floor," the Audubon's news release reads.
A paramuriceid seafan (octocoral). New England Coral Canyons.
A paramuriceid seafan (octocoral). New England Coral Canyons.
NOAA Ocean Explorer
No, the birds don't spend their time down in the canyons, but they feed on the surface waters above the canyons, growing plump with the abundance of fish provided by the biodiverse ecosystem below. The five undersea canyons and four seamounts are home to a remarkable diversity of sea life. The depth and isolation of these canyons have kept them largely free from human disturbance for millennia.
The Audubon Society says the findings are the first time the winter grounds of Atlantic puffins has been mapped. With the population of Atlantic puffins standing at 10 million today, they are in decline, and the information obtained on their winter travels will be important to their conservation.
In Heezen Canyon  scientists came across an
underwater coral “forest”—some seven or
more feet ...
In Heezen Canyon, scientists came across an underwater coral “forest”—some seven or more feet high and hundreds of years old.
NOAA Ocean Explorer
"Potential threats of commercial fishing, offshore wind, and climate change have prompted the need for information on the nonbreeding movements and wintering locations of seabirds that nest in the Gulf of Maine," Kress told the Boston Herald.
More about atlantic puffins, Maine, winter months', new england's coral canyons, winter sanctuary
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