Picture this: It’s a brisk, early autumn evening on southern Iceland’s Westman Islands. You’re enjoying a seaside stroll, basking in the views of the sea beyond the cliffs when you happen across an adorable, lone baby puffin.
What do you do?
If your answer was to grab the puffling by its feathery little body and yeet it with all your strength off of a cliff, congratulations! You’re not only (probably) a sociopath but you’re also absolutely correct – at least in the eyes of the Island locals.
For a few weeks in August and September, the people of Vestmannaeyjar are on a mission – spending "puffling season" finding lost puffins who have mistaken city lights for the moon, their guiding light to sea, and toss them back into the waters where they belong.
"People were just running around the streets, like into corners and sidewalks and stuff, frantically chasing things,” content creator Kyana Sue Powers recalled of her first foray with this bizarre tradition in an interview with NPR last year, detailing her confusion upon noticing locals running through the streets with flashlights and containers one evening.
“It's just what you do, it's as normal to do as recycling cans," she elaborated.
So why, exactly, is helping puffins in their cliff-diving pursuits the morally sound thing to do? The answer, it seems, comes down to the birds’ recent reproduction woes, which can make it tricky to keep live offspring.
Despite their largely robust numbers – the puffin is Iceland’s “most common” bird, per Insider – several issues including overfishing and pollution on top of their once-a-year approach to egg incubation have prompted the puffin population to plummet by 1,600,000.
These issues combined are so intense, Erpur Snaer Hansen, a higher-up at the South Iceland Nature Center, even dubbed it a "breeding failure, basically.”
So folks, take it from the experts – the best way to help a lost puffin is to throw it off a cliff. Shotput, you’ve got some avian competition.