Puffin & Petrel Patrol pauses public participation

Last year, 300 people in total volunteered with the Puffin Patrol, said a CPAWS spokesperson. On Saturday night alone, 200 people showed up.

'It's a good problem to have, in a lot of ways'

Juergan Schau, who co-founded the Patrol with his wife Elfie Schau, holds a chick he rescued in this photo from 2016. (Puffin & Petrel Patrol/Facebook)

The number of people hoping to rescue and release wayward puffins has become unmanageable for the The Witless Bay Puffin & Petrel Patrol, forcing organizers to suspend public participation in the program.

"It's a good problem to have, in a lot of ways," said Kathy Unger, the conservation coordinator for the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS).

Elan Failing, left, and Kathy Unger look for puffins in early August. Failing came to St. John's from Vancouver to work on the Puffin Patrol with CPAWS. (Andrew Sampson/CBC)

On their first trip away from their parents' nests, baby puffins — called pufflings — will head out to the ocean, in search of food. They'll use the light of the moon to guide their way. But lights from cars and cabins nearby can lure them away from the water and onto the road.

Volunteers with the the Puffin & Petrel Patrol gather around Witless Bay when the sun goes down and to scoop up the wandering pufflings and release them back into the water.

Last year, 300 people volunteered over the course of the entire season, said Unger.

On Saturday night alone, she said nearly 200 people showed up.

A large crowd gathered to celebrate the launch of the annual Puffin & Petrel Patrol in early August. (Andrew Sampson/CBC)

While Unger is thrilled so many people are aware of the puffling problem and care so much about the birds, she said the light from hundreds of headlights and flashlights are ultimately putting the pufflings in more danger.

"It's not in the best interests of the birds anymore," she said.

There were also concerns and complains from community members, she said. 

It's not in the best interests of the birds anymore.- Kathy Unger

As a result, CPAWS, who oversees the Patrol, made the "easy decision" to suspend public participation until it can come up with a plan to manage the the jump in volunteers.

In the meantime, a core group of trained CPAWS volunteers will be out at night, rescuing the pufflings, she said.

Unger stresses that she and CPAWS are extremely grateful for all of the interest and all of the extra help, and the organization intends to resume public participation in the Patrol as soon as it can.

Recent media coverage of the Puffin patrol is likely driving all the increase, she said, noting that this year, people have been coming from all over the world to participate.

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