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Devastation of Wildfowl at Cork Lough


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The Evening Echo here in Cork reported today that 60 birds have been found dead at The Lough in Cork (a natural freshwater lake in Cork City that has been a wildfowl sanctuary for many decades), three swans being pulled out last night by vets, two dead, one nearly dead. Apparently it started happening a month ago. I myself noticed a dying swan about a month ago when walking my dogs there (I live next to it). Ciaran Lynch TD was here this morning expressing concern that the wildfowl population here is in danger of being devastated. On my way home just a couple of minutes ago there were vets and council workers out on the Lough in boats, there are five dead swans sitting on the slipway having been pulled from the island on the lake.

The paper is mentioning the possibility of a virus causing all the death. There are tests being done at the moment to determine it, the council said they'd release a statement when they know. Does anyone here with any experience of wildfowl or living nearby wildfowl sanctuaries have any idea what it might be?

Story can be seen on the front page pdf through http://www.eecho.ie
 

Ecoguy

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The Evening Echo here in Cork reported today that 60 birds have been found dead at The Lough in Cork (a natural freshwater lake in Cork City that has been a wildfowl sanctuary for many decades), three swans being pulled out last night by vets, two dead, one nearly dead. Apparently it started happening a month ago. I myself noticed a dying swan about a month ago when walking my dogs there (I live next to it). Ciaran Lynch TD was here this morning expressing concern that the wildfowl population here is in danger of being devastated. On my way home just a couple of minutes ago there were vets and council workers out on the Lough in boats, there are five dead swans sitting on the slipway having been pulled from the island on the lake.

The paper is mentioning the possibility of a virus causing all the death. There are tests being done at the moment to determine it, the council said they'd release a statement when they know. Does anyone here with any experience of wildfowl or living nearby wildfowl sanctuaries have any idea what it might be?

Story can be seen on the front page pdf through http://www.eecho.ie
Thats terrible news - I remember there was an issue a few years ago on the Lough with wildfowl being poisoned by discarded lead fishing weights, but I thought that issue had been sorted:(
 
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Thats terrible news - I remember there was an issue a few years ago on the Lough with wildfowl being poisoned by discarded lead fishing weights, but I thought that issue had been sorted:(
Well there are kids across there fishing as I speak. There are fishing tents out several nights every week, sometimes several, often with alarmed rods and no-one around (which i never understand, there's no challenge in it - it's essentially a giant pond, not a fast-flowing river - unless they're actually keeping the fish). There are signs the fish have apparently been affected too, by the way. The swan that I saw that time a month ago was sitting on its own at the grass near the slip, listless and clearly sick, neck bent. Normally the swans rasp at my dogs (who are trained not to go near or chase any birds) but this one had no interest, completely unmoved. They're taking several swans away in bags right now, there are probably more to come out.
 

MsAnneThrope

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Was just reading about that in the Examiner. All very sad.

A mystery virus has killed around 50 swans in The Lough area of Cork city over the past few days.

Cork City Council has yet to say how long it has been aware of the problem, but it has been removing the dead swans for the past few days.

The virus is understood to have been introduced by migratory ducks that have settled in the area.

Officials say the illness only affects fowl species and poses no threat to humans.
Please don't tell Rupert Murdoch however. I'm not familiar with the area in question. Any chance of industrial or sewage/slurry contamination, in case it transpires that it's not caused by a virus?
 
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Was just reading about that in the Examiner. All very sad.



Please don't tell Rupert Murdoch however. I'm not familiar with the area in question. Any chance of industrial or sewage/slurry contamination, in case it turns out not to be a virus?
Thanks for the link. The Echo is reporting that fish have been affected too, though whether that is a separate issue I do not know. The Lough is in the middle of town, not far from UCC, about ten minutes walk from Patrick Street. The area is entirely residential. The Lough itself is fed from underwater springs (a lot of people wrongly think it is man-made, it is a real freshwater lake) but also from drains where rainwater enters it (it was roaring in last night from the south-east side). It is possible that the stormwater can carry in pollutants, but I doubt it here because (a) there's no record of it happening before and (b) it was very dry at the time the birds started dying, the heavy rain only occurring in the last week. I wonder if it is an avian-imported disease, could it be bird flu?
 

MsAnneThrope

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I wonder if it is an avian-imported disease, could it be bird flu?
I hope not but it can't be ruled out yet, especially if migratory ducks and/or other birds have moved into the area. If fish are also dying then I'd think it points more to pollutants in the water. Hopefully the tests on the dead birds and water won't take long.
 
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I hope not but it can't be ruled out yet, especially if migratory ducks and/or other birds have moved into the area. If fish are also dying then I'd think it points more to pollutants in the water. Hopefully the tests on the dead birds and water won't take long.
The Echo quotes someone as saying that there are fish also affected, but there is apparently no resultant ban on angling, there are kids fishing there now. It's possible that, if they are, it's unrelated (the hot dry weather and lack of oxygen in the water can affect them). It is apparently sixty swans or so dead, there are few left, I can see one out my window now with her young cygnet and a handful of others further over but I haven't seen the two black swans for some time and there are only a fraction of the number of mute swans that are normally there. I can't work out if it is just swans dying or whether other wildfowl (geese, ducks, moorhens, etc.) are dying too. I suppose we'll just have to wait and see...
 

MsAnneThrope

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Irish Times covering it now too:

:(


About 50 swans are believed to have died at The Lough in Cork city over recent days, with ducks and fish also dying, prompting fears over pollution, deliberate sabotage or a virus epidemic having taken grip at the public amenity and tourist magnet.
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A Cork City Council spokesman stressed that City Hall was actively engaged in seeking a solution. He said tissue samples had been sent to the Department of Agriculture for testing, and that results were expected within the next day or so.
I'd lean more towards a pollutant myself and not bird flu, but as you say we'll just have to wait and see. I'm very disappointed Birdwatch Ireland isn't covering this, as it's been going on since early June apparently. Not a mention on their site and their Cork branch aren't covering it either.

Keep us posted please TA if you hear anything solid locally.
 

Jock_the_Waster

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Dan Boyle once again shows how ineffective he is.
 
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Dan Boyle once again shows how ineffective he is.
In fairness, and I'm not exactly uncritical of Dan Boyle, I don't think it's his job to defend the wildfowl against incoming viruses or patrol the Lough 24 hours a day. But there is criticism being made against the City Council here for the lack of responsiveness to reports of this over the last month. No-one knows who to contact as well. I think that we who live beside the Lough should be given a contact to talk to as it tends to be us who keep an eye out.
 

HughinBandon

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MsAnneThrope

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Could a few discarded or lost lead fishing weights really contaminate a lough so badly that birds and fish there die? I know lead is toxic but surely you'd need an awful lot of it to contaminate a reasonably sized lough? Wouldn't you expect to see it at many other loughs around the country where people fish?
 
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What Ciaran Lynch said today:
I would also like to know what measures they have taken so far to address the problem, and what precisely their plan of action is.
I understand that these deaths have been caused by some virus or other, but we need clarity on this.
The Lough is a major national bird sanctuary and this outbreak is potentially catastrophic to the wild bird population in the area.
An emergency meeting of the Recreation, Amenity and Culture Committee must be convened, to put in place strategy to address these deaths.
 
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Could a few discarded or lost lead fishing weights really contaminate a lough so badly that birds and fish there die? I know lead is toxic but surely you'd need an awful lot of it to contaminate a reasonably sized lough? Wouldn't you expect to see it at many other loughs around the country where people fish?
There was a UCC study of lead poisoning in mute swans in the 1980s, one of the sites tested was the Lough. The abstract reads as follows:
A study of blood levels in 971 mute swans Cygnus olor in Ireland from 1984 to 1986 revealed that ingested lead pellets are responsible for acute lead poisoning. 42% of blood samples from 890 live birds at one site showed elevated lead levels. X-ray examination of live birds revealed the source of contamination to be ingested lead pellets. Urban birds had higher lead levels than rural birds, the blood lead levels of which were presumed to reflect natural background levels. Urban grass had elevated lead but this did not cause lead poisoning in Canada geese (Branta canadensis). Post-mortem examination has shown that 68% (n=101) of all mute swans examined from a number of sites died from lead poisoning. Two sources of poisoning were identified; spent gunshot from a claypigeon shooting site at Lough Neagh, Northern Ireland, and lost or discarded anglers' weights at Cork Lough and at a fishing pond in Belfast, N.I. The first known case of lead poisoning in whooper swans Cygnus cygnus in Ireland is recorded which resulted from the ingestion of gunshot used almost two decades earlier.
Lead poisoning in swans and sources of contamination in Ireland. | O'Halloran, J., Myers, A. A., Duggan, P. F. | Journal of Zoology |
 

the klingon

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Could a few discarded or lost lead fishing weights really contaminate a lough so badly that birds and fish there die? I know lead is toxic but surely you'd need an awful lot of it to contaminate a reasonably sized lough? Wouldn't you expect to see it at many other loughs around the country where people fish?
Is it possible the Swans are eating the lead? I don't see how that could then affect the fish unless the lead is somehow degrading to grain sized bits.
Otoh there would still need to be an awful lot of lead weights to kill all the birds.

Poor birds.
Poor locals to see this amenity in such a state.

Edit: I see the appropriately named toxic avenger beat me to it with more releveant info above :)
 

MsAnneThrope

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There was a UCC study of lead poisoning in mute swans in the 1980s, one of the sites tested was the Lough. The abstract reads as follows:


Lead poisoning in swans and sources of contamination in Ireland. | O'Halloran, J., Myers, A. A., Duggan, P. F. | Journal of Zoology |
Good info. Thanks. I did a little further checking myself to see how and why they could be ingesting it:

Since ducks regularly search for food on the bottoms of lakes and streams, they ingest gravel that is used in the gizzard to help grind up food for digestion. Not being able to distinguish between a piece of gravel or a lead pellet, they are vulnerable to eating shot that settles on the bottom of lakes.

According to Toby McBride, a doctoral student at Texas Tech's Institute for Environmental and Human Health, feeders such as "swans, geese, cranes and some duck species use aquatic plants as a primary food source, and they eat large amounts of sediment in the process. These animals are then exposed to lead shot remaining in lake and marshland sediment.

"Concerns over lead in wildlife were not expressed until the 1950s, when great numbers of waterfowl deaths were recognized as the result of lead use in firearm munitions and fishing sinkers."

He said research shows that more than 100,000 lead pellets per acre could accumulate by the end of the hunting season, and concluded that "4 percent of the waterfowl population was dying annually due to ingesting lead shot."

Lead poisoning also can affect shorebirds, pheasants, doves and quail. It also kills bald and golden eagles.

Here on the high plains, eagles coexist with waterfowl and follow the flocks of geese and ducks, in turn making them susceptible to ingesting the pellets when they eat waterfowl.

In these and other predatory birds, poisoning results when the lead shot embedded in the flesh of the prey is eaten. Pellets are ground down during digestion and the lead is then absorbed into the body as lead salt that disturbs the digestive and nervous systems.

In birds, symptoms of lead poisoning include neurological and gastrointestinal problems; limb paralysis, staggering, and difficulty walking on land; and wings can be mal-positioned or drag on the ground. Symptoms may also include vocal changes, such as a high-pitched honk, swelling in the face or esophagus and bright green feces.

An affected bird is reluctant to fly, and unable to sustain flight. Anemia, muscle wasting and overall emaciation ensue.
Still doesn't explain the fish deaths, unless they're also ingesting it while feeding too.

So what's being done?

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's 1991 nationwide ban on the use of lead shot for waterfowl hunting has had significant success preventing the premature deaths of millions of waterfowl from lead poisoning.

Nontoxic shot is now the standard. Approved shot types include steel, Bismuth-tin, Tungsten-iron, and others.

Finally, it's important to educate fishermen on the dangers to waterfowl when they are careless and leave lead sinkers and other tackle around our lake perimeters.
Another one for the Greens and other parties to add to their list, if not on it already. Even if this isn't the cause of the current Cork deaths I can't think why we couldn't ban lead shot and lead fishing weights here, when acceptable alternatives are available.
 
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Good research there. There are many people fishing here all year around, at all times of the night, sometimes several tents (there are some out there now). The Lough is not giant, about 6 hectares, so that's pretty intensive. I'm not saying they use lead, but if they did it would be quite easy to see how it could easily become a massive health hazard very quickly. The odds are still on a virus though, that's what has been put out as probable cause anyway. We'll see.
 
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