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#07-186 July 9, 2007

DNR biologists investigating seabird die-off

The S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has received reports of more than 140 dead or sick greater shearwaters, a gull-like bird, since June 26th along the entire South Carolina coast. This die-off is affecting the entire southeast coast.  The birds are primarily greater shearwaters, but other species have been reported.

DNR biologists are examining the dead birds to investigate the cause.  With several hundred deadgreater shearwaters birds reported in Florida, there is the potential for hundreds to show up in South Carolina.

Researchers with DNR are calling the die-off of birds significant and have collected some of the birds for testing. Initial necropsy results are not definitive; however, preliminary findings indicate starvation during migration played a role. Additional test results are pending, but die-offs during migration are not uncommon. A similar shorebird die-off in 2005 resulted in approximately 200 birds washing up on shore in South Carolina.

According the Peterson Field Guide for Eastern Birds, shearwaters spend their lives at sea, well offshore in the open ocean except for when they breed, nest and rear young. Greater shearwaters breed primarily on Tristan da Cunha Island in the South Atlantic and wander the sea north to Greenland and Iceland, and back. Storms at sea can weaken the birds and cause them to become sick and dehydrated resulting in death.

If you find a dead or sick shorebird:

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