Everyone needs a little puffling in their life.
Temperatures are rising, and the days are getting longer—summer is officially here. But is it really summer until everyone's favorite bird cams are back? Here at Motherboard, we think not.
It gives me great pleasure to announce that today, four of our favorite livestreams (including the eminent "puffin loafing ledge cam") have officially returned. Over the next couple of months, people everywhere will be able to watch as an adorable new generation of puffins, osprey, and guillemots fight for their lives. Some will make it, while others may succumb to disease, malnourishment, or even predation. You didn't think it was going to be all rainbows and sunshine, right?
As much as we'd like to see these feathered munchkins survive, the sometimes gruesome realities of nature have been made unquestionably clear by livestreaming technology. You might remember the little puffling who choked on a butterfish and died as thousands of viewers helplessly watched. Or the two chicks who were snatched from their nests in 2015 by a hungry bald eagle.
The general public loves live cams for the same reason some people like zoos: because animals—especially baby animals—are cute, and it's usually the cute ones that get livestreams. Brown bear are charismatic, but the salmon we delightfully watch them rip into every summer? Not so much. And it seems that recently, a certain subset of audience members have rejected the notion that wildlife cams should be undisturbed portholes peering out into nature.
When the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution's osprey cam revealed a mother attacking her chicks in 2014, commenters eviscerated conservationists for maintaining a hands-off approach. "I realize this is nature, but once you put up a cam to view into their worlds it is no longer nature. You have a responsibility to help n save when in need," one man wrote. In light of this, many cameras now feature non-intervention policies, such as the one managed by the University of Montana that reminds viewers "this is not a Disney movie."
Wildlife cams are fun to watch, but they're also an unfiltered view of climate change, human development, and the consequences of being near the lower end of the food chain. People should be forced look on as pufflings suffocate by too-large butterfish. After all, rising ocean temperatures due to anthropogenic climate change are responsible for depleting the puffin's usual food sources. This isn't about sadism, it's about acknowledging the un-cute effects that humans have on animals we happily objectify and anthropomorphize.
"Climate change is now one of the puffin's biggest threats, as we learned thanks to camera technology," said a spokesperson for the National Audubon Society. "Warming currents brought these unusual sources of fish for the parents to feed their chicks. Unfortunately, because of their size and shape, many chicks were unable to swallow them and starved."
Maine's puffin colonies were once completely wiped out by hunters, but persistent reintroduction efforts by the National Audubon Society and other conservationists have gradually reestablished the area's bird population, and puffins are now returning annually to breed in the same place they were raised.
This year, cams will follow a pair of Osprey parents, nicknamed Rachel and Steve—after biologists Rachel Carson and Stephen Kress—who arrived at Hog Island, Maine in late April, and now have three chicks in tow.