Birds Dying in Great Salt Lake Botulism Outbreak

Birds Dying in Great Salt Lake Botulism Outbreak

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ANTELOPE ISLAND STATE PARK, Utah (AP) -- About 15,000 birds have died in a botulism outbreak at the Great Salt Lake, the worst the lake has had in nine years.

"It's worse than average, but certainly far short of maximum," said Tom Aldrich, waterfowl coordinator for the state Division of Wildlife.

Thousands of dead shorebirds and ducks have been washing up on the causeway that connects Antelope Island with the mainland.

Aldrich said the latest estimate is 15,000 dead birds and counting.

In 1997, the worst avian botulism outbreak in recent history killed an estimated 500,000 birds, according to wildlife officials.

Up to 3 million ducks are expected to pass over the lake this fall, so the outbreak isn't expected to have a significant impact on the overall population. But the dead and dying birds are a gruesome sight.

"Unfortunately, with botulism it takes a long time for them to die," said Leslie McFarlane, disease specialist for the Division of Wildlife. "It causes paralysis, and they starve to death. It takes several days for them to die from it."

The disease spreads as birds die and begin to decompose. Maggots feed on the carcasses, then are washed away and eaten by other birds.

"The maggots become little botulism power pills, basically," said John Luft, avian biologist for the Great Salt Lake ecosystem project.

Biologists are not sure what started the original outbreak, which first appeared in July in Farmington Bay. Both were near where sewer systems empty into the bay.


Information from: Standard-Examiner,

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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