Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Detects New Bird Die-Off

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Date: July 2, 2009
Contact: Chris Otto, 231-334-7685

Biologists at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore are closely monitoring what appears to be a new botulism-related bird die-off along the park shoreline.  Although the cause of the die-off has yet to be confirmed, all indications point toward a botulism Type E outbreak as the likely culprit.  Through Wednesday afternoon, park biologists had located about 40 dead seagulls; however, the extent of the die-off is still being determined.  Hundreds of carcasses of the non-native round goby fish, which are believed to carry the botulism toxin and transmit it to birds when eaten, are being found as well.

Lake Michigan beaches within the National Lakeshore remain safe for swimming and recreation, but park visitors should exercise caution upon encountering bird or fish carcasses.  Botulism is not an infectious disease.  It is a poison.  You must ingest the toxin, usually by eating an infected fish or animal, to become ill.  You are not at risk for contracting botulism by swimming in Lake Michigan.  Visitors bringing pets to the park should keep them away from dead animals on the beach.  Pets may be poisoned if they eat dead birds or fish containing botulism toxin.

The National Park Service at Sleeping Bear Dunes is currently undertaking a study of botulism Type E to determine whether there are any steps that can be taken to control outbreaks.  Dead birds and fish are identified, counted, and buried when possible.  Very freshly dead animals are collected for study and analysis.  With limited staff and 65 miles of shoreline, not all carcasses will be removed immediately.  If you are interested in volunteering to help monitor beaches during botulism outbreaks, please contact Chris Otto at 334-7685.  It is important for the study that numbers, species, dates and locations are recorded.  Please do not bury or remove carcasses without prior authorization from Resource Management staff at the park.

Last updated: April 10, 2015

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