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Tristan da Cunha Birds Dying in the U.S.

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  • Bob Conrich
    Deaths of sea birds have wildlife officials puzzled By JON W. GLASS The Virginian-Pilot Norfolk, Virginia, USA © July 2, 2005 VIRGINIA BEACH — Wildlife
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 2, 2005
      Deaths of sea birds have wildlife officials puzzled
      By JON W. GLASS
      The Virginian-Pilot
      Norfolk, Virginia, USA
      © July 2, 2005

      VIRGINIA BEACH — Wildlife officials are investigating the mysterious deaths of hundreds of sea birds that have washed up on
      beaches along the Atlantic coast since mid-June, including south of Sandbridge and on the Outer Banks. Most of the birds
      have been greater shearwaters , which are now migrating north from their breeding grounds in the South Atlantic. The birds,
      while fairly common, are rarely seen by beachgoers because they typically stay 30 to 100 miles offshore, where they feed on
      small fish and squid.

      Some of the birds have washed up alive, unable to fly and appearing weak, and later died. The number of dead birds has
      alarmed wildlife officials, who are scrambling to pinpoint a cause.

      More than 500 dead sea birds have been reported from Maryland to Florida since June 12, said Emi Saito, a wildlife disease
      specialist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wis. “It’s unusual to see so
      many,” Saito said this week. Wildlife pathologists are examining the carcasses for exposure to toxins, pollutants such as
      heavy metals and infections that might indicate a broader environmental concern, she said.

      During the past week, staffers at the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia Beach have found about a dozen dead
      greater shearwaters on the beach, said Dorie Stolley, a wildlife biologist. Only a few remained in good enough condition to
      be examined, and the others were incinerated by city animal control officers, she said. Staffers used rubber gloves and
      took other precautions while collecting the birds. People are advised not to touch dead birds they find on the beach.

      Reports of dead birds also have come from Ocracoke and Hatteras Island on the Outer Banks. Diane Duncan, an ecologist with
      the federal wildlife agency’s Ecological Services Office in Charleston, S.C., said the first reports came from Myrtle Beach,
      Hilton Head and several nearby islands. Nearly 200 birds have washed up since then in South Carolina, Duncan said. “In 20
      years here, I have never seen this kind of mortality event,” Duncan said. “It certainly is a concern to us, and we’d like to
      know the cause.” Tests on two of the birds ruled out toxins found in red tide, a type of algal bloom that biologists
      initially suspected as a culprit, Duncan said.

      Will Post, an ornithologist and curator at The Charleston Museum, said he had dissected six greater shearwaters that had
      washed up alive, unable to fly, and later died. The birds’ stomachs were empty, but they had varying levels of fat
      reserves, suggesting that they did not die of starvation, Post said. “They were below normal weight, but that’s normal when
      they’re in migration,” he said.

      The shearwaters fly nearly 5,000 miles during their annual migrations to and from their nesting grounds on Tristan da Cunha,
      a chain of volcanic islands in the South Atlantic, Post said. The cold-water birds breed in April and May and then fly to
      their summer grounds off New England and points north, he said.

      Islanders in the South Atlantic are allowed to harvest about 50,000 of the young birds a year for food, which is
      controversial, Post said. There’s an estimated 5 million breeding pairs, he added. The birds resemble gulls in appearance
      and size, with brown to gray heads and white undersides. They have webbed feet and dark, tube like bills. Since they spend
      their lives at sea, Post said, they are able to drink salt water, excreting excess salt through special glands in their heads.

      Reach Jon W. Glass at (757) 222-5119 or jon.glass@....
      © 2005 HamptonRoads.com/PilotOnline.com


      Tristan da Cunha is a Dependency of St. Helena, a British Overseas Territory. BC
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