BOOKS: Project Puffin

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 1998:

Project Puffin:
How We Brought Puffins
Back to Egg Rock
by Stephen W. Kress
as told to Pete Salmansohn
40 pages, hardcover, $16.95.

Giving Back To The Earth:
A Teacher’s Guide for Project Puffin
and Other Seabird Studies
by Pete Salmansohn and Stephen W. Kress
70 pages, paperback, $7.95.
Both from Tilbury House
(132 Water St., Gardiner, ME 04345), 1997.


Eastern Egg Rock, Maine, “is the fruit of a 25-
year effort by Audubon biologist Stephen Kress,” Scott
Allen of the Boston Globe recently explained, “which began
when Kress brought his first suitcase full of puffin chicks to
the island. Capitalizing on public affection for puffins,
whose penguin-like bodies and parrot beaks make them
tourist darlings, Kress has made a home for less-loved birds
too, such as the black guillemot, which looks like a webfooted
pigeon.”
Said Kress, “This is almost a museum of what
Maine seabird colonies used to be like,” before humans
clubbed and shotgunned most of the birds into scarcity in
most cases, extinction in the case of the great auk, and then
fished out their food sources.
Altogether, Kress introduced 954 puffin chicks to
the seven-acre island between 1973 and 1986. I’m among
the tens of thousands of tourists who have visited and
admired the results, which are actually far more vital and
educational than any museum exhibit because the birds of
Eastern Egg Rock are alive, not dead, stuffed and postured.
Unfortunately, restoring puffins and other native
species of Eastern Egg Rock may have brought more b i r d –
killing than the collection of specimens for most major natural
history museums. As Kress rather evasively puts it for the
scbool-aged readers of Project Puffin, “If the young puffins
survived their two or three years on the sea and came back to
Eastern Egg Rock, I knew we’d have to do something about
the gulls. I certainly didn’t want to see our returning birds
eaten or scared away by the herring gulls and great blackbacked
gulls who nested on the island. I decided to ask the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for their help.”
Gulls were poisoned by the thousand, often taking
as long as three days to die.
Giving Back suggests that students debate the poisoning,
a good idea, but tends to frame the issue as puffins
or poison, as if there were no other possibities, and gives
moral weight only to the argument that humans should prevent
extinctions, as if puffins were in any danger of extinction
in any of their other range. Only five one-sentence summaries
are given to all the arguments against the poisoning.
Project Puffin and Giving Back address many other
key issues having to do with coastal ecology, including the
collapse of fisheries. Like a visit to Eastern Egg Rock, they
furnish much material for thought––and are best viewed from
more than just the angles presented.

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