Things to Do

Rescuing Pufflings on the Westman Islands

I think this is one of the greatest things in Iceland. Let’s start with a quick description of puffins. Atlantic Puffins are seabirds found around Iceland, Greenland, and several other areas in the North Atlantic.


Most of the year, they live out on the ocean, diving for food; you can recognize them by their rapidly flapping wings.

puffin big

But in late spring, they head to seaside cliffs to lay their eggs. The eggs are shaped in a particular way so they don’t roll off the cliff; rather, they just spin in a small circle.

viking boat puffins

The eggs hatch in the summer; the adult puffins raise the birds for 6 weeks or so. But once the baby puffins (“pufflings”) are big enough, the parents stop feeding them, and they are on their own. The babies fly toward the water and begin their life at sea.

Except … sometimes they don’t. The pufflings have an instinct to head toward light to get to the ocean: the moon, I think? But the lights of civilization confuse them, and they end up lost and lonely on land.

Every year, children of the Westman Islands (off the south coast of Iceland) have a job– saving these misguided pufflings. This year, there was concern that many of the babies didn’t survive, and that there wouldn’t be many babies to rescue. But last week, the children of the island, armed with flashlights and cardboard boxes, started finding them. The kids get to stay up late looking for pufflings.


That’s a picture from the Facebook page of the Westman Islands Aquarium, called Saeheimar Aquarium. The children take care of the pufflings overnight, and then bring them to the Aquarium the next day; there they keep records of how many pufflings have been found. Finally, the children take their pufflings to the ocean and set them free, this time facing the right direction.

The pictures on their Facebook page are fantastic- so many smiling kids posing with their pufflings. And so many cute pufflings too!


But this is a serious operation. As of yesterday, the Aquarium has recorded 1,355 pufflings that have been rescued. And they are finding more every night. So follow along on their Facebook page. And, if you’re in the Westman Islands (which I highly recommend), go visit the aquarium. There you can pet their pet puffin.

puffin petting

He was a rescued puffling a several years ago, but he was injured. So now he spends his days wandering around the aquarium and hanging out with visitors. This was a highlight of our visit to the Westman Islands, but there’s a lot more to do!

The puffling season is in late August or early September. It’s tough to plan a trip around this, since the timing varies each year. But if you happen to be heading to the Westman Islands around this time, make sure to bring a flashlight, and let the kids stay up late!

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Rescuing Pufflings on the Westman Islands was last modified: September 10th, 2016 by Eric