Mystery Surrounds Deaths Of Northern Gannets Found On Cape Cod

BOSTON (CBS) – It’s a medical mystery surrounding the deaths of majestic seabirds washing up on Cape Cod and South Shore beaches. And so far there are no clear answers about what is killing the Northern Gannets.

Meanwhile, the death toll stands at nearly 100, as scientists search for a reason. “This really gets to be a Sherlock Holmes enterprise,” says Dr. Greg Mertz, a veterinarian at the New England Wildlife Center in Weymouth.

He has tried to save several of the gannets. “We have not had one survive,” he says.

bird Mystery Surrounds Deaths Of Northern Gannets Found On Cape Cod

Northern Gannett (Image credit: NE Wildlife Center)

The large birds spend most of their lives at sea, diving from great heights to catch fish. The die-off started about a month and a half ago.

“They are normally very stately and also very strong presence kind of birds, and they’re coming in like wet noodles. They’re just kind of laying down. You can approach them without them even reacting to you,” Mertz says.

The sick birds suffer gastrointestinal problems, anemia and are often covered with lice. And even though they begin to recover with treatment, it doesn’t last. “They will respond but then they crash again,” Mertz says.

birds2 Mystery Surrounds Deaths Of Northern Gannets Found On Cape Cod

Northern Gannet (Image credit: NE Wildlife Center)

Which adds to the mystery. “We’re just probably seeing the tip of the iceberg. We’re seeing the ones that land on the shore. There are probably many more out there that are probably just going under,” he adds.

Veterinarians are sending samples to the USDA to see if federal experts can find a cause. Is it the fish they’re eating, the effect of red tide or something else? “I tend to think it’s more a viral issue, but we don’t know,” says Mertz.

Another part of the mystery, usually at this time of year gannets have moved away from Massachusetts, going north in search of breeding grounds and food. So to see that they’re still near the South Shore and the Cape is unusual.

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