DEC investigating death of gulls on Lake Ontario Shore
Written by NYS DEC   
Monday, 15 August 2005 15:08
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) today announced that the agency is investigating the cause of the deaths of birds along the shores of Lake Ontario and Thousand Islands area of the St. Lawrence River and advised the public to take precautions in handling birds and wildlife from these areas until the investigation is completed.

During the first week of August, two dead birds were found on the St. Lawrence River shore in the Town of Cape Vincent, Jefferson County. Both of the birds tested positive for Type E Botulism. Additional birds - Caspian terns, Double-crested cormorants and a Herring gull collected from Little Galloo Island in the eastern basin of Lake Ontario on Tuesday, August 9, 2005 - were also confirmed stricken with the disease.

In recent years, Type E Botulism (Clostridium botulinum) has affected fish and birds in Lake Huron and Lake Erie, and was first documented in birds near Lake Ontario in 2002. Type E Botulism is a specific strain of botulism most commonly affecting fish-eating birds. It causes paralysis in the affected birds and often is fatal. The disease results from the ingestion of a toxin produced by the botulism bacterium and can be harmful to humans who eat birds or fish that have been poisoned by this toxin. There is no risk of exposure to humans from swimming in Lake Ontario or St Lawrence River waters.

An outbreak of Type E Botulism first appeared in southern Lake Huron in 1998 and spread to Lake Erie in 1999. In the fall of 2000, the botulism had spread to the eastern part of Lake Erie and thousands of water birds were found washed up on the shoreline. DEC subsequently confirmed Type E Botulism in several species of fish and waterfowl from Lake Erie. In July of 2002 several gulls were tested around the eastern basin of Lake Ontario and many of those tested positive. There have been no reports of any human illnesses associated with these outbreaks.

Type E Botulism has not been found in any fish from Lake Ontario or the St. Lawrence River. DEC is continuing to gather sick and dead birds and fish to check for botulism or other diseases. As part of annual monitoring for the disease, sweeps of specific stretches of the great lakes shorelines occur each fall, and any dead birds collected are tested for the disease.

Hunters and anglers are advised not to harvest waterfowl or fish that are sick or acting abnormally. Cooking may not destroy the botulism toxin. DEC reminds hunters and anglers to take the following precautions for preparing all fish and waterfowl:

-- harvest only fish and waterfowl that act and look healthy;

-- wear rubber or plastic protective gloves while filleting, field dressing, skinning or butchering birds, fish or wildlife. Remove and discard intestines soon after harvest and avoid direct contact with intestinal contents;

-- wash hands, utensils and work surfaces before and after handling any raw food, including fish and game meat;

-- keep fish and game cool (either with ice or refrigerated below 45 degrees Fahrenheit/7 degrees Celsius) until filleted or butchered, and then refrigerate or freeze; and

-- cook fish and other seafood to an internal temperature (in the thickest part) of 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius). Cook game birds to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit (74 degrees Celsius).

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