Wild Care Releases Three Survivors of Northern Gannet Die-Off
Mystery illness struck this species hard
Wild Care, Inc., a wildlife rescue and rehabilitation center in Eastham, successfully released the only three surviving Northern Gannets of a recent die-off that struck Cape Cod and the South Shore of Massachusetts beginning this spring.
Since May, 2017, dozens of Northern Gannets have washed ashore deceased or exhibiting severe neurological symptoms. Beachgoers, Cape Cod National Seashore Rangers, and Wild Care staff and volunteers collected 23 Northern Gannets and brought them to Wild Care for treatment since January. Many of these birds arrived between May and June showing signs of this unknown illness.
“They were unable to hold up their heads, and had tremors. They could not control their body movements,” stated Stephanie Ellis, Wild Care Executive Director. “To us, this suggests a toxin or head trauma. Birds with a long-term illness or injury often stop feeding and are emaciated when they wash ashore. The majority of these neurological gannets were within normal weight range and their blood work appeared normal,” Ellis said. “Whatever was impacting them was affecting them very quickly.”
On July 5th, Wild Care Animal Care Coordinator, Jennifer Taylor released the only three survivors of the die-off. The three gannets had been at Wild Care since early May, receiving intensive care. They were released on Snow Shore in Orleans. “We generally release these birds offshore, into their natural habitat. We decided to release the birds from shore in case they got into trouble, they could then swim to shore where we could rescue them easily,” states Jennifer. “Fortunately, they all went out to sea and did not come back to shore. The juvenile, and one adult stayed with each other and did lots of the bouncy-fluttering in the water. They looked SO HAPPY.”
Wild Care worked closely with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Cape Wildlife Center of Barnstable to help determine the cause of the die-off, and determine effective treatment protocols. USDA Wildlife Technician Ryan Bevilacqua said his agency sent tissue, blood and other samples taken from dead birds to the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study at the University of Georgia veterinary medicine program. Analysis has ruled out avian flu, but all other results are pending. Red Tide is suspect.
“Three surviving birds is better than no surviving birds,” states Ellis. “Even though we lost many, there is much to learn from even the deceased birds. Our experience will help us to treat birds in the future when we see similar ailments. It is very challenging to treat the unknown. We are delighted to have pulled these three birds through their illness.”
WILD CARE’s wildlife rehabilitator’s treat birds, mammals and reptiles brought to the center, with the goal of releasing them back into the wild when they are capable of independent survival. Through public education, WILD CARE works to prevent wildlife casualties and works to engage the community in conservation through volunteerism. Since our founding WILD CARE has accepted over 25,000 wild creatures, representing over 275 species of native birds, mammals and reptiles. If you encounter injured, orphaned or ill wildlife please call the WILD CARE of Cape Cod helpline at 508-240-2255. Visit WILD CARE’s website at www.wildcarecapecod.org to make a donation.
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