Unexplainable Bird Deaths Puzzle Scientists

Unexplainable Bird Deaths Puzzle Scientists

Published June 16, 2014

Andie Sophia Fontaine
Photo by
Diliff/Wikimedia Commons

Dozens of sea birds have been found dead in a region of Snæfellsnes, and the cause eludes the experts.

Vísir reports that since last month, over 50 common eiders have been found dead near a nesting area in Fróðárrif, located on the Snæfellsnes peninsula in west Iceland. However, no apparent cause of death could be found. This prompted the West-Iceland Centre of Natural History (NSV) to conduct further investigations.

Menja von Schmalensee told attendees at an NSV meeting last Wednesday that, in the course of these investigations, an additional 70 dead birds were found in the area. These birds included kittiwakes, cormorants and more eiders. Even more inexplicably, many dead flounders were also found near the area, having washed up on the shores nearby.

Jón Einar Jónsson, the director of the Institute of Research Centres at the University of Iceland, visited the area with NSV employees. Although scavenging creatures had picked apart many of the dead birds, a few specimens were still intact, and newly dead. Some of these specimens have been sent to the US, to be examined by experts in bird diseases there.

Jón points out that the eider and the kittiwake have little in common with each other, apart from the fact that they both use fresh water ponds around this time of year. This could point to ponds in the area as being a possible source of the deadly culprit.

Update: Jón contacted the Grapevine and provided the following update on the situation: “The dead eiders are being processed as we speak: 1) four specimens have been diagnosed with acute tissue changes and are presently undergoing tissue cultures at Keldur, Reykjavík, 2) five birds are thawing at USGS-National Wildlife Health Center in Wisconsin, where they will be autopsied soon. However, there are no conclusive findings regarding cause of death at this time.”

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