Local gulls sick, dying


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Local gulls sick, dying
Laughing gulls, like the one pictured here on the wing, are suffering from a mysterious and sometimes fatal illness from Passage Key south to Siesta Key. - Cindy Lane | Sun

ANNA MARIA ISLAND – Island resident Jeannie Bystrom, who frequently rescues pelicans tangled in fishing line, found 23 dead laughing gulls on a recent trip to Passage Key, north of the Island.

It’s the latest place where gull deaths have been reported this month, along with deaths on Anna Maria Island and Lido and Siesta Keys in Sarasota.

Local gulls sick, dying
This gull was found dead on Passage Key last week along with 22 others. – Jeannie Bystrom | Submitted

“It could be a virus or botulism or red tide,” Bystrom said, adding that terns and sandpipers on the uninhabited Passage Key looked healthy, although she found one dead pelican tangled in fishing line.

Bystrom took one sick seagull to Ed Straight at Wildlife Inc. Education and Rehabilitation in Bradenton Beach, but the gull later died, Straight said. Two others were recovering this afternoon, including one found stumbling across Gulf Drive by a Sun reporter.

Save Our Seabirds had seven laughing gulls recovering this afternoon at its rehab facility on City Island in Sarasota; 10 others have died there since the first of the month.

The gulls are lethargic and dehydrated, and may have eaten from a single contaminated source, a technician said.

The FWC asks that anyone seeing a sick or dead gull report it on their wild bird surveillance website.

Sad as it is, population collapses happen in nature from time to time, said Charlie Hunsicker, director of Manatee County’s Parks and Natural Resources Department. Like a forest fire paves the way for new growth, the die-off may be nature’s way of repairing a problem, he said.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is doing necropsies on several birds and expects results in the next week or two, according to Michelle Kerr of the FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg.

The FWC asks that anyone seeing a sick or dead gull report it on their wild bird surveillance website.

The project, a partnership with the Florida Department of Health, was initiated to support surveillance for bird die-offs and aids in monitoring for Avian Influenza and West Nile Virus.

After a hiatus, red tide appeared in local waters last week in background concentrations at Manatee Beach and Longboat Pass, according to the FWC. Elsewhere in Florida, background to medium concentrations were found in 10 samples off Lee County and background to high concentrations were found in 15 samples collected off Collier County.

Fecal bacteria were found in the water at Bayfront Park in Anna Maria and south Palma Sola Bay this week, according to the Florida Department of Health.


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Cindy Lane
Sun staff writer and photographer Cindy Lane covers the environment, tourism and Cortez, and is the Sun's digital and social media editor. Email

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