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Scientists solve mystery behind where puffins spend winter

Leeanna McLean
Digital Reporter

Thursday, February 18, 2016, 4:52 PM - Scientists have solved a long-standing mystery behind where Maine's Atlantic puffins head for the winter.

Steve Kress, founder of Project Puffin, has spent more than 40 summers off the coast of Maine studying the birds. Puffins are known to spend about four months on land and the remaining time out to sea. The fact that birds were hiding out for more than half of year baffled Kress.

After years of trying to track the birds, Kress and his team of researchers have discovered the puffins travel far off New Jersey and New York for the winter. 

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In 2009, Kress and members of the Audubon's Seabird Restoration Program attached geolocators to the birds. Faulty data and a manufacturing glitch led to two fail attempts but finally in 2013-14 the group was able to uncover some valuable information.

Data collected from 19 puffins showed the birds head to two main locations. They start the journey by swimming north to the Gulf of St. Lawrence where they spend about a month in Canada before travelling south about 320 km 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.

Researchers say this is an important discovery because the species is threatened and more data about their movements is needed to further conservation efforts.

"Potential threats of commercial fishing, offshore wind and climate change have prompted the need for information on the non-breeding movements and wintering locations of seabirds that nest in the Gulf of Maine," Kress told Associated Press.

There are over 10 million Atlantic puffins in the world, however, the population is declining, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

SOURCE: Audubon | Associated Press

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