Tourists from all over the world have been flocking to the Treshnish Isles, west of Mull, this summer to get up close and personal with a puffin.
Boat operator Iain Morrison calls it puffin therapy, having witnessed the positive effect that these clowns of the seabird world have had on people.
Mr Morrison, of the Turus Mara boat tour company, has been taking tourists from Mull to Lunga, the largest of the Treshnish Isles, for more than 40 years, to see the thousands of puffins which gather there in the summer.
He says the word about puffin therapy is spreading fast, with more cruise ships and private boats visiting Lunga this year.
Mr Morrison, 66, said: “I have been doing the trips for 41 years and was the first person to start taking people out there, but it’s a lot busier now and the cruise ships are coming in more and more.
“We get a lot of Australians, Chinese, East Europeans and Americans. I get people e-mailing me from all over the world saying, ‘Can I have some puffin therapy on such and such a date?’”
When Mr Morrison first used the phrase “puffin therapy” it was tongue in cheek, but he gradually realised the extraordinarily positive effect that puffins have on people.
He said: “For years and years I have taken people to Lunga and I can see that when they have gone ashore they are a wee bit apprehensive. It’s as if I have dropped them off on a desert island. Then they come back two hours later and they have a big smile on their face, so puffin therapy must work.”
Mr Morrison said: “When we go to Lunga you can look to the edge of the cliff and there is not a puffin in sight but once people go ashore the puffins come in from the sea.
“I think the puffins have begun to understand that their predators won’t come when there are people there. There is a communication there between the puffins and the people.
“We are tending to get more people who are completely out of their element in the outdoors, this is the effect of television, because of the programmes they are seeing.
“When they come back to the boat people say, that was marvellous, that was fantastic, and they talk about how they never knew that you could get so close to the puffins and about how funny the birds are – they do comic displays.”
The puffin season has just come to an end this month.
Ke Yan, 31, a high school teacher from China and her husband Ding Hu, 32, a civil engineer, saw the puffins this month.
Speaking yesterday from her home in China Mrs Ke said: “It’s absolutely true, the puffins have a calming, relaxing effect on people.
“This was a trip I had been looking forward to for a long time.”