7 March 2012

Puffin awesome!!

Heimaey, off the coast of Iceland, is the largest island in the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago. With an estimated eight to ten million puffins in Vestmannaeyjar, it is the location of largest puffin colony in the world.

While hitch-hiking around Heimaey, I was picked-up by the local tyre-salesman and joined him for his daily stroll around the deserted 60° slopes of the island. Initially I thought he was going to push me off the cliff and steal my camera, but he was more interested in spotting whales.

July 1st to August 15th is hunting season. The man showed me a hunting spot on the cliff face (below), which he could only access by walking down the cliff whilst hanging onto a rope. Tucked into this little nook, a hunter would use a big net with a super, long handle to steal the birds from their flight paths. This is called "sky fishing."

Thousands of these adorable birds are hunted every year – sometimes two to three at a time. Once they are caught, the hunters swiftly break their necks.
"The record for one day is 1,700," he said.
"How about you?" I asked.
"Only 500."
It seems a bit cruel but it's necessary to control their numbers.
"See that," he said, pointing to an island of rock bursting out of the ocean. "Me and my friends rent it every hunting season."

Afterwards, he drove me to his house and showed me his long pole... I mean, his net (just look at the picture below and you'll know what I mean). He mentioned that his son had a business of skinning and selling the puffin meat.
"Are they difficult to skin?" I asked.
"No, you can peel the skin off in one piece. My son has become very good at it."

"Because the puffins have short wings," he said, "they need the wind to help them take-off and fly. This is why they live on the cliffs." Once in the air, puffins beat their wings up to 400 times per minute. Furthermore, their short wings are adapted for a special flying technique under water.

Every night in August, millions of newborn puffins leave their burrows in the the cliffs of Heimaey to fly over the north Atlantic ocean. They use the moon to navigate but they get thrown off by the streetlights, and many of them get disoriented and crash onto the streets of the town. So many children, led by their parents, roam the streets at night with flashlights, finding the young birds and launching them back into the air, saving them from the dogs, cats and imminent death. It's a really sweet tradition, but it doesn't stop the people from eating them once they're mature. And the raw heart of a puffin is eaten as a delicacy in Iceland.

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Related Posts

- The Blue Lagoon, Iceland


  1. But are the numbers of puffins so high that people need to hunt them to keep them under control? And hunting 1700 birds a day sounds like overkill to me...I guess I'm just sad that they are killing cute birds like these.

  2. I think 1,700 is definitely an exception. I'm not even 100% convinced that it's even possible to catch that many in a single day - not without any help anyway. They do have long, LONG days in Iceland during the summer, but even if they were sky-fishing for 20 hours, with no breaks, it would mean they would have to have caught an average of 85 puffins an hour. So I'm thinking that maybe I misheard the tyre-salesman. May it was 700, not 1,700.

    They are really cute birds, but from what I saw the people really treat them with affection. Yes, they do hunt them, but they also really look after them. When we were walking around the really steep hill-top, I almost fell and accidentally landed on a nest. The Tyre-salesman quickly came over and fixed the nest as good as new, digging out any parts which had caved in. It was really sweet to see. When they catch them, they kill the puffins very quickly and humanely by breaking their neck. It takes about 2 seconds.

    Personally, I really don't like the harm of any animal or living creature, but it is the way things are in that part of Iceland. But it does make me feel a little better knowing that puffins are not an endangered species.

  3. This is wonderful Island. Very natural and attractive I would surely visit it.

  4. Hello,
    Awesome photo’s and amazing location. Really a very good post thank you for sharing this with us.

  5. Hello

    Great post and awesome snap. i really like this.


  6. Thanks guys. =)

  7. Nice post ! Thanks for sharing nice post and beautiful pictures.



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