Seabirds and swans dying on Florida’s gulf coast

5 10 2010

Veterinarian John Gardner (right) examines a sick swan from Longboat Key in Florida

Over the past month, residents and wildlife rehabilitators near Florida’s Longboat Key (near Tampa) have noticed unusually high numbers of seabirds and swans dead or dying on the beaches. Lee Fox, a longtime rehabilitator with Save Our Seabirds, reports that 65 terns and gulls have died in a month, a number far exceeding what they typically see in that time period. Fox also noted that more of the birds brought to her facility have died despite treatment than is typical for the species. Clinical signs in the birds included paralysis and sudden death. No cause for the birds’ illness has yet been determined, and it is unclear whether any of the seabirds were submitted for necropsy.

The affected swans were sent to a veterinarian in the inland city of Lakeland, FL. Dr. John Gardner, locally known as the “swan vet” for his work with the city’s resident swans, received 3 live swans and one dead one for examination. He has not determined a cause for their illness, but in response to speculation that it might be botulism, he said the signs did not appear consistent with that infection. He also pointed out that botulism rarely affects seabirds living in a marine environment, and so would be highly unlikely to have caused the tern and gull mortalities.

The single dead swan has been submitted to a lab in Orlando for testing.

Observers in Florida have speculated that the deaths could be linked to the BP spill, or the chemical dispersants used to break up the oil. At this point, there is no evidence pointing to such a link. Your SEANET blogger is, of course, intrigued by the story and will inform you readers should any further information or test results become available.