Though she sadly failed to get any photos of the operation, Dr. Julie Ellis did head out over the weekend to Jeremy Point in Wellfleet, MA to investigate the recent Common Eider die-offs. Accompanied by Dr. Michael Moore and Andrea Bogomolni, Dr. Ellis faced a daunting four missions: ascertain the numbers of live Common Eiders hanging out in the area, count and mark the dead eiders on the beach, collect wings from the dead birds for identification purposes, and collect dead or dying eiders for potential diagnosis by pathologists.
While the live birds scattered at their boat’s approach, the team was able to accomplish all of its other objectives. They counted a total of 50 dead birds on the beach, and collected 15-20 wings for submission to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Experts at Fish and Wildlife are able to characterize the age and sex of the birds affected by close examination of the wings.
Dr. Ellis and company found a single, intact freshly dead eider. The remainder had been severely scavenged by the local gulls who were having a field day at the macabre scene. Dr. Ellis and Andrea were able to capture 5 sick eiders for euthanasia by Dr. Moore, a veterinarian. While the birds were too ill to fly, they did struggle to escape, prompting Dr. Ellis to sprint barefoot across the sand to catch the birds before they entered the water and became entirely inaccessible. (See dramatization in photo above.) The six carcasses will be submitted to two separate labs in an attempt to obtain a diagnosis.
SEANET will keep you posted regarding the results, and we thank Dr. Moore and Andrea for generously donating their time, and the National Parks Service for granting us access to the site.