Lightkeepers & Lifesavers Once Helped Protect Sea Birds along Maine's Coast

Released 3/3/08

The Maine Lighthouse Museum and the Audubon Societies' Project Puffin have teamed up to create a new temporary exhibit at the Maine Lighthouse Museum in Rockland, which highlights the role that lighthouse and lifesaving keepers once played in the protection of sea birds along Maine's coast and islands.

MLM volunteer Ted Panayotoff & Audubon Education Director Susan Schubel
Photo by Ann-Marie Trapani

Maine Lighthouse Museum volunteer Ted
Panayotoff and Audubon Education Director
Susan Schubel worked together to create a
new exhibit entitled, "When Lighthouse and
Life-Saving Station Keepers Saved Birds'
Lives as well as Mariners' Lives"

The new exhibit, entitled "When Lighthouse and Life-Saving Station Keepers Saved Birds' Lives as well as Mariners' Lives," is on display at the Museum through spring 2008.

"In the late 1800s sea birds were being hunted to extinction for their plumes to supply the New York millinery market." Panayotoff went on to note, "In addition, sea bird eggs, principally Herring Gull eggs, were being extensively gathered to sell commercially for food."

The exhibit highlights the efforts of the American Ornithologists Union (AOU) through historical writings in publications such as "The Auk" and "Bird-Lore," which reveal how prominent ornithologists of the late 19th century not only recognized the severe damage such activities was inflicting upon the sea bird population to the point of extinction, but how this group also effectively sounded the alarm, soliciting Federal, State and public support to protect the endangered sea birds.

Subsequent action by the AOU provided for the eventual employment of wardens to enforce the laws at the nesting grounds along Maine's coast. "Many of the early wardens were not State of Federal wardens but instead were hired by the American Ornithologists Union, and later the National Association of Audubon Societies," said Panayotoff. "Because many of the rookeries or nesting grounds were near or on Federal light station or life-saving station properties, the AOU solicited the United States Lighthouse Service and the United States Life-Saving Service for the assistance of the station keepers to act as wardens." Panayotoff went on to say, "Both organizations were very supportive; lighthouse and lifesaving keepers served as wardens and were key participants in the early history of bird protection. As late as the early 1930s, the lighthouse keepers at Matinicus Rock Light Station in Maine were active Audubon wardens."

The exhibit "When Lighthouse and Life-Saving Station Keepers Saved Birds' Lives as well as Mariners' Lives" also teaches Museum visitors how the AOU considered Maine as one of the most important states in the bird protection program, and highlights the six Maine lighthouse keepers and two lifesaving station keepers who participated in the effort.

Panayotoff concludes, "The new Maine Lighthouse Museum exhibit explains why and how this bird protection program began and documents the important role of the lighthouse and lifesaving station keepers in its success. It has been said that the reason the Atlantic Puffin survived on Matinicus Rock was due to the efforts of the lighthouse keepers stationed there."

The temporary exhibit can be viewed at the Maine Lighthouse Museum, which is located at One Park Dr, Rockland, Wednesday through Friday 9:00 am to 5:00 pm and Saturday 10:00 am to 4:00 pm through Memorial Day and then daily during the summer.