The northern cliffs are empty. A few decades ago, the Norwegians could boast of rich seabird colonies. Today their cliffs offer a rather sad look. Food sources have dropped rapidly as a result of climate change. But seabirds don’t like moving for food.

Even 50 years ago, more than 300,000 seabirds inhabited the cliffs of Varanger Island in Norway. Today there are a few thousand. The Syltefjord Reef, in the Finnmakr County, was the habitat for the colonies of 10,000 to 15,000 pairs of guillemot and about 150,000 pairs of kittiwakes.

Rapid Loss

Rob Barrett is a researcher at the Tromsø University Museum, who has been observing the population of Norwegian seabirds for years, last visited a massive nesting cliff several decades ago.

Common guillemot

“I was shocked the last time I boated beneath the nesting cliff at Syltefjord in Finnmark County. The two-kilometre-long and 200-metre-tall cliff face was nearly devoid of birds.”

30 percent of seabirds living on the mainland coast have disappeared in the last 10 years.

Climate Change

This is probably due to rising ocean temperatures and extremely limited access to food. Despite these difficult conditions, birds do not move to more abundant places.

Atlantic puffin

“Seabirds are very conservative animals. Once a pair has settled for a site they stay there. Their offspring can move. But we haven’t witnessed any change in the habitation areas for the species, perhaps with the exception of the northern gannets, which have started to nest at Bjørnøya,” says Rob Barrett.

At the beginning of the 19th century, the gannet was almost extinct because of its feathers that were decorated with hats. Nor are the common guillemot and the Atlantic puffin poppulation doing well.


The sea eagle, whose population has been growing along the coast in recent years, has been fishing for the black-legged kittiwake chicks. When the black-legged kittiwakes are expelled from their nests, their eggs and chicks will become prey for seagulls, crows, ravens and insatiable minks and foxes.

Black-legged kittiwake

“The ocean is undergoing changes because of climate change. Seabirds that live in the high north are fine-tuned to the times when food for their offspring normally comes north with sea currents.”

“It can mean a catastrophe for nesting in North Norway in a given year if the herring fry from Norway’s Møre og Romsdal County coast turn up 14 days early or 14 days late.”

Seabirds have evolved with the ability to survive such a poor period of one to two seasons. However, they are not adapted to cope with food shortages for several consecutive years.

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