Seanet volunteers Jenette Kerr (WB_36), Dennis Minsky (WB_39) and Julie O’Neil (WB_20) all reported dead Northern Gannets on their Cape Cod beaches during the last week of October. While there was no evidence of a cause of death in the single birds found by Jenette and Julie, the eleven birds found by Dennis were a different story. Six or seven of the 11 Gannets showed some evidence of oiling on their feathers. While the oiling was not extensive, generally affecting small areas of the wings or breast, there is no question that this could have led to the deaths of these birds. Even a small area of oiling compromises seabirds’ waterproofing and can easily lead to hypothermia in a marine environment. The birds will also attempt to preen the oil off and can ingest it leading to fatal toxicosis. Without necropsies, no definitive diagnosis can be made. And it must be said that Northern Gannets typically begin turning up on beaches up and down the east coast at about this time, coincident with their southward migration.
Certainly, some of these birds would have died anyway, but the number of birds seen so far this Fall is somewhat higher than we are accustomed to seeing. Additionally, we have received reports from non-Seanetters–concerned members of the public alarmed by the seemingly large number of dead gannets found on non-SEANET beaches. Those birds (perhaps a dozen in total) have also shown some faint traces of a black-brown substance that could be oil, though these photos are less definitive.
Since no major spill event has been reported in the area, the affected birds were likely caught in a small, unreported spill, or even an illegal discharge of contaminated bilge water.
We ask that all our Cape Cod readers, volunteers and friends alike, keep an eye out for more gannets washing up out there. This is a troubling and frustrating finding, but also a reminder of how important SEANET is; our volunteers are on the frontline of detecting this sort of event, and we appreciate all your work and dedication. Keep it up, even in the face of depressing news like this. You are making a difference, Seanetters!