Large die-off of Alaska seabirds from disease never found before in state history — Official: It’s super, super common… except it’s first time — Hundreds dead per km²; Continued to wash ashore — ‘Relatively’ natural; Witness: Head flopped backward, appeared to have seizure, then dropped dead (AUDIO)

Published: December 12th, 2013 at 2:28 pm ET
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Anchorage Daily News: Hundreds of dead sea birds found on the beaches of St. Lawrence Island were the victims of Alaska’s first detected avian cholera outbreak, officials said this week. One hunter in Gambell spotted a bird on the beach, its head flopping backward [...] The bird acted like it was having a seizure. Then it dropped dead. [...] Gay Sheffield, a Nome-based biologist with the University of Alaska’s Marine Advisory Program [...] received three bird carcasses: a northern fulmar [...] a thick-billed murre [...] and a black crested auklet [...] “For this disease, actually, these numbers are really small, which makes me think there’s a lot more birds that died somewhere else that we didn’t see” [said Kimberlee Beckmen, Fish & Game veterinarian.]

“It’s super, super common” (except it’s the first time)

“It’s not something that can hurt people” (but wear gloves, wash hands, and never eat  it)

  • Cathie Harms, a wildlife biologist with ADF&G: “The good news is although birds died, it’s not something that can hurt people”
  • AP: Officials warn anyone touching a sick bird or animal to wear gloves and wash hands with soap and water after handling animals or butchering meat. Never eat sick birds or animals that may have died from a disease.

Biologist will try an aerial count of carcasses in a few days (as residents dispose of bodies)

  • AP: A local biologist will try to get an aerial count of infected birds or carcasses next week.
  • Anchorage Daily News: Residents will don protective gloves to pick up what carcasses they find
  • Alaska Department of Fish and Game: Outbreaks are usually handled by removing the carcasses as soon as possible

Dead seabirds continued to wash up, though not as many as before

  • AP: Most of the birds turned up on a 10-mile beach [...] Early reports put the number of dead birds at 200 to 300
    bird per square kilometer. The outbreak is apparently already declining, wildlife authorities said. [...]
  • Alaska Department of Fish and Game: Beckmen noted that the number of and dead birds reported is decreasing.
  • Cathie Harms, a wildlife biologist with ADF&G: “We are hearing fewer reports of dead birds as the days go on.”

It is just an unprecedented outbreak (which are never related to environmental changes)

  • AP: Residents in Gambell and Savoonga worried something in the environment had killed the birds, and notified officials.
  • Cathie Harms, a wildlife biologist with ADF&G: She says even with a large die-off like the one recently seen off St. Lawrence Island, it’s a relatively natural event. “We had heard that people had concerns of why birds were dying and appearing on the beach [...] it isn’t related to the environment or other issues – it is just an outbreak.”
  • Gay Sheffield, a Nome-based biologist with the University of Alaska’s Marine Advisory Program: “People out there did a fabulous job of responding, reporting, getting the word out. It’s only because of their actions that we’re learning what this is all about.”

Listen to the KSKA broadcast here

See also: Alaska: 28% of polar bears with skin lesions & hair loss, thyroids tested by gov’t… like symptoms in seals & walrus — Surprisingly high mortality of musk ox, weak immune system suspected — High rate of embryo deaths & bad eggs for geese

And: Sickened Alaska animals getting more tests for Fukushima radionuclides -- Oozing sores, bleeding, swollen internal organs, hair loss (PHOTOS)

Published: December 12th, 2013 at 2:28 pm ET
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