Bird Deaths at Snæfellsnes Continue to Mystify

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Bird Deaths at Snæfellsnes Continue to Mystify

Kolgrafafjörður

Photo: Páll Stefánsson.

Last week landowners at Fróðá near Fróðárrif reef, Snæfellsnes, alerted authorities to dozens of dead seabirds on the beach by the reef. Investigators from the West Iceland Center of Natural History found approximately seventy dead birds at the scene, most of them black-legged kittiwakes but also eiders and cormorants. Additionally several dead flounders were found to have washed ashore close by.

The discovery follows the yet unresolved deaths of fifty eiders in the area this past May.

Jón Einar Jónsson, director of the University of Iceland’s Snæfellsnes Research Centre, tasked with investigating the eider incident, suspects contamination of fresh water, as the birds have little in common aside from utilizing the same sources of fresh water in the area. The collection and analysis of water samples is therefore crucial, particularly in shallow pools close to the beach. However the center lacks the necessary resources, said Jón in an interview with RÚV.

The eiders have been sent to the United States for further examination by experts in bird pathology.

Gunnar Þór Hallgrímsson, ornithologist and director of the Southwest Iceland Nature Research Institute, agrees with the strong likelihood of a fresh water infection.

Mass bird death of this sort is more common abroad where it is usually traced to the clostridium botulinum bacterium, which causes botulism, he said to Visir.is. If that turns out to be the case, detecting and investigating the bacteria’s presence in Iceland is vital.

“There is no reason to eliminate this explanation even if [clostridium botulinum] has not been known to exist here, but the same can be said of bird influenza. There are other possible explanations that cannot be eliminated either, but this must be looked into,” said Gunnar.

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