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July 14 Talk: Tufted Puffin Research Studies of the Oregon Coast

Published 07/13/21 at 5:15 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

July 14 Talk: Tufted Puffin Research Studies of the Oregon Coast

(Cannon Beach, Oregon) – Once again the puffin makes the headlines along the Oregon coast, this time with another presentation on the fine feathered friend of the Cannon Beach area. On July 14, Shawn Stephenson, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife, will be presenting “Tufted Puffin Research Studies of the Oregon Coast” in an online talk at Facebook Live (@Friends of Haystack). It starts at 7 p.m. (Photo courtesy Friends of Haystack)

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It's all part of the Extended World of Haystack Rock Library Lecture Series 2020-2021, which spotlights the puffin this season.

This most revered critter technically goes by the name Fratercula cirrhata. The tufted puffin is a medium-large pelagic seabird and member of the Auk family. You'll find them all over the North Pacific Ocean, with distribution and nests on the coastline and offshore islands in California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, Alaska, Japan, and Russia.

Stephensen will look deeply into the various scientific bits and pieces that are being put together, with not always good news.

Sadly, their populations are on the decline in the southern part of their habitat range – from northern California up through British Columbia. In 2008, U.S. Fish and Wildlife researchers conducted a survey of the burrow-nesting seabirds along the entire Oregon coast and found a significant decline in population since the last official count in 1988. A mere 15 tufted puffin colonies were discovered at that time. During summer 2021, an assessment of all known historical and current Tufted Puffin breeding sites on the Oregon coast is planned in order to accurately document the breeding population.

Currently, Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex personnel are collecting tufted puffin samples for population genetic structure analysis. The objective is to explore and describe the genetic structure of Tufted Puffins throughout their North American range.

As part of this assessment, Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex personnel are collecting tufted puffin samples for population genetic structure analysis. Genetic samples (feathers, blood, dead bird, scat, etc.) will be collected opportunistically at accessible colony sites during the coast wide survey. The objective is to explore and describe the genetic structure of Tufted Puffins throughout their North American range.

“Using a minimum of 10 variable microsatellite markers, we will screen Tufted Puffin samples collected across the North Pacific,” Stephensen said. “Standard population genetic analyses will be conducted, including STRUCTURE analyses and pairwise Fst values. These data will help us identify and refine important conservation units and baseline measures of genetic diversity of the Tufted Puffin.

Effective conservation strategies require an understanding of genetic structuring and the relationships between population structure, connectivity and species declines. COASST (Beached Bird Surveyors) and rehabilitation centers have been contacted to obtain dead birds from Oregon. The Pacific Seabird Group Tufted Puffin Technical Committee has been working cooperatively for the past year to obtain samples, and biologists from Washington, California, Alaska, and Canada are also collecting samples.

The rocks, reefs, and islands of Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge are infrequently visited or accessed. This survey will provide the opportunity to gather as much information as possible while exploring the islands thus a rapid assessment of habitat at the breeding sites of the Tufted Puffin will also be conducted during the survey. The goals of the assessment include documentation of the presence or absence of invasive plant species, overall habitat condition, erosion documentation, and predator abundance.

Shawn W. Stephensen received a Bachelor of Science in Fisheries and Wildlife at Utah State University and Master of Science in Biological Sciences at University of Alaska, Anchorage. Stephensen has been a Wildlife Biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for almost 28 years (since 1989). StephensenStephensen worked in the Fish and Wildlife Enhancement branch in Salt Lake City, Utah conducting contaminant studies for 4 years; Migratory Bird Management in Anchorage, Alaska conducting seabird studies for 15 years; and for the past 9 years worked at the Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex in Newport, Oregon.

Friends of Haystack Rock is a nonprofit organization focused on keeping Haystack Rock healthy and thriving. Our mission is to promote the preservation and protection of the intertidal life and birds that inhabit the Marine Garden and Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge at Haystack Rock. We do this in cooperation with Haystack Rock Awareness Program (HRAP) and other partnerships.

Upcoming Talks:

August 11th, Dr. Selina S. Heppell will be presenting “What Can Citizen Science Tell Us About Puffin Declines and North Pacific Climate Change?”

September 8th, Rachael Orben & Noah Dolinajec, will be presenting, “A Seabird's Seafood: Investigating the Diet of Tufted Puffin Chicks at Haystack Rock through Noninvasive Community Focused Activities”

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