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Botulism Killing Lake Michigan Birds

By Margaret Lyons in News on Jan 15, 2008 5:02PM


Thousands of migratory birds died in the last few months due to Type E Botulism poisoning from Lake Michigan. Scientists don't know exactly how the birds are contracting botulism, but our theory that they ate tainted canned goods—that's the most common way to human adults contract botulinum poisoning--isn't an option, apparently. The current theory blames invasive populations of zebra mussels and round gobies.

Zebra mussels and their deep-water kin, quagga mussels, filter naturally occurring botulism and other toxins from the water. Gobies eat the mussels, and birds, in turn, eat the gobies.

Scientists theorize this new food chain is concentrating botulism and other toxins and passing them up to predators.

The other Great Lakes have been hit by the disease as well, but Lake Michigan's ecosystem suffered the most devestating effects this year. An estimated 8,500 birds, including ducks, grebes, gulls, pigeons, loons, plovers, and other species, died during the fall this year, and experts are expecting even worse numbers next year.

People are unlikely to eat a bird that has type E botulism--the birds become paralyzed, and that's not so tasty looking--but the possibility thousands of bird carcasses lining the shores of the lake is of certain concern. Right now, there's not a lot that can be done to contain the outbreak or to treat affected birds. [Trib, info from Canada, eh, had sad photos, More info]

Those birds are healthy...for Lauri Apple