MARINE BIRD LIFE – The Fabulous Puffin and the Disputed Island

Puffins and Machias Seal Island – The Island that Canada Maintains and the USA Claims
First posted 2008. Updated December 2018
Puffin, Wikipedia

Everyone loves the Puffin. With its unique, colorful beak and contrasting body colors, most folks think its cute. In flight it resembles a stubby cigar with inadequate wings. Nevertheless, the Atlantic Puffin is a successful Bay of Fundy seabird that is best known as a resident of Machias Seal Island its principal nesting area.
Despite being claimed by the United States, Canada maintains its ownership with a long-term presence on this disputed island including operating the lighthouse and establishing rules that protect the puffins and other nesting seabird. There are no signs as yet that the dispute will end anytime soon.
Originally published 2008. Updated December 2018



Google Maps

Machias Seal Island’s sovereignty would likely not be in question today if it were not for the decision by Canada and the United States to avoid settling this issue in 1979 at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague in the Netherlands.

Both nations avoided having ICJ rule on the sovereignty of Machias Seal Island and nearby North Rock by agreeing to have a common starting point for the offshore boundary southwest of the island at 44°11′12″N 67°16′46″W. The October 12, 1984, ICJ ruling, Delimitation of the Maritime Boundary in the Gulf of Maine Area (Canada/United States of America), has since highlighted a gap in the maritime boundary for several dozen kilometres between the current end of the Canada–US border and the 1984 Gulf of Maine boundary starting point. Machias Seal Island and North Rock lie in the middle of this “grey zone”—a term coined by fishermen from both countries, referring to unclear jurisdictional boundaries in the area.

As a result of this ongoing dispute, the surrounding waters, have become a political football for local  fishing communities of coastal Charlotte County, New Brunswick and Washington County, Maine. There are little to no mineral or petroleum resources in the “grey zone”; but, there is a valuable lobster fishery and fishermen from both countries are exploiting the lack of rules in the “grey zone”. In June 2018, US Border Patrol vessels stopped at least 10 Canadian fishing boats from New Brunswick, reportedly asking about illegal immigrants.

Using the residence on the island, two lighthouse keepers are flown by helicopter from the Canadian Coast Guard base in Saint John every four weeks to replace the two existing keepers.These Coast Guard employees also assist the Canadian Wildlife Service in maintaining the Migratory Bird Sanctuary, as well as helping any wildlife researchers who may stay on the island for a period of time.

(Modified from Wikipedia)


The island lies offshore south of Canada’s Grand Manan Island and almost equidistant to the Maine shore. While access to the Island is controlled, during the summer tour boats from both countries provide trips to Machias Seal Island to see the abundant bird populations there and the whales that are often seen in surrounding waters. A Google search for “Machias Seal Island tours” will provide all of the information needed to book a tour to this special place.

Is it worth the visit?  Absolutely



This island is one of the most important seabird nesting colonies in the Gulf of Maine and is designated the Machias Seal Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary .
At one time the most numerous birds on the island were arctic and common terns. However, the numbers have declined primarily due the reduced availability of food around the island. Machias Seal Island is also the home to one of the most southerly colonies of the atlantic puffin. Razorbill auks are common as well as leach’s storm petrels.
Razorbill. Wikipedia
But the Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) is the star. A member of the auk family as well, this pelagic bird feeds primarily by diving for fish, but also eats other sea creatures, such as squid and crustaceans. Its most obvious characteristic is its brightly colored beak during the breeding seasons. Also known as the Common Puffin, it is the only puffin species which is found in the Atlantic Ocean. The curious appearance of the bird, with its colorful huge bill and its striking piebald plumage, has given rise to nicknames such as “clown of the ocean” and “sea parrot”.
Well over 100 species of land birds have been spotted on the Island, including the savannah sparrow, spotted sandpiper, tree swallow and barn swallow.
(Modified from Wikipedia and Environment and Natural Resources Canada)

One thought on “MARINE BIRD LIFE – The Fabulous Puffin and the Disputed Island

  1. Hi Art – I thought it was about time that I did a post on puffins. Seeing as I’m not a birder at all, I hope you don;t mind that I borrowed a photo from your blog> I’ll link back to you on the post.Hope things are going well for you, Terri


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