Dead, dying seabirds washing up on S.C. shores
Public advised not to touch creatures, which are dying of unknown causes
By JOEY HOLLEMAN
Birds that typically stay well offshore are showing up by the dozens on South Carolina beaches, either dead or dying.
Wildlife officials aren’t sure what’s causing the deaths, though it appears to have some neurological root, said Al Segars, a veterinarian with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.
Because of the mystery, officials warn people who spot the birds on beaches or inland to leave them alone. Ignore the instinct to pick up a staggering bird and instead call the local beach patrol or animal control offices, Segars said.
“Don’t take them home and try to nurse them back to health,” he said Friday.
About 150 birds have been found from northern Georgia to Cape Hatteras, N.C., this week, Segars said. Most are greater shearwaters, though some are storm petrels and gannets. In general, the off-shore birds are about the size of larger gulls.
None of the typical shorebirds — pelicans, gulls, terns — seems to be affected, Segars said.
Three ailing birds have been found at Hunting Island State Park, said assistant park interpreter Laurel Weeks. Two were dead. The other, which seemed disoriented, wandered off.
Segars said that’s typical of the birds found still alive. They stagger when they can walk, often collapsing after a while and dying. That hints at a neurological problem, which might be related to an algae bloom offshore, he said.
Toxic algae enters the food chain, and birds can be sickened by eating tainted fish.
But the die-off could be simply the typical mortality of the birds during migration. Onshore winds in recent days might be washing ashore sick and dying birds that normally would have died in the water offshore, Segars said.
Several of the birds have been sent to the Southeast Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study lab in Georgia for testing.
About 150 greater shearwaters were found dead along North Carolina’s Outer Banks in late June and early July 1995, according to the National Wildlife Health Center. Experts found those birds had died from malnourishment.