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Great Lakes Article:

Scientists test dead wildlife, water samples from closed eastern Ont. beach
The Canadian Press
Tuesday, August 24, 2004

WELLINGTON, Ont. -- A public beach in eastern Ontario remained closed Tuesday as provincial officials began testing dozens of water samples and dead wildlife washed ashore from Lake Ontario.

Although testing won't be completed for several days, a Natural Resources Ministry official said botulism poisoning may be responsible for the unusually high number of dead birds, fish and other wildlife along the half-kilometre stretch of the beach.

"The hypothesis is it may be botulism . . . based on the variety of wildlife involved, the time of year and behaviour of the sick animals," said Alastair Mathers, a fisheries biologist with the ministry's Lake Ontario management unit south of Belleville.

The beach in this picturesque town along Lake Ontario, about a half-hour's drive south of Belleville, was closed Monday by health authorities in the Hastings and Prince Edward Counties Health Unit.

Carol Snell, a health unit spokeswoman, said officials are waiting for the test results to comment on any possible human health concerns.

The beach will remain closed "until we know what's causing the fish and birds to die," she said.

Samples of the dead birds including cormorants and gulls, fish like carp, gobies and sheepshead, and other wildlife were sent to the University of Guelph for testing, with results not expected until early next week, said Mathers.

"The count of dead animals is abnormally high for this time of year," he said.

Raw water samples from a water-treatment plant in Wellington and from an algae bloom off the shore of the half-kilometre stretch of beach arrived Tuesday morning at the Environment Ministry's lab in Toronto for testing.

Mathers toured the beach Monday and said that it wasn't unusual to come across a dead fish or bird every few steps.

"It is unusual, that's why we're looking into it and we have these samples being investigated."

Testing on water samples that began Tuesday "on a high-priority basis" at an Environment Ministry lab in Toronto won't be completed until the end of this week, said ministry spokesman Mark Rabbior.

There are various forms of botulism poisoning, which is caused by the bacteria Clostridium botulinum naturally found in lake soil.

Avian botulism poisoning causes mortality, sometimes on a large scale, in various waterfowl and shorelines species. Medical literature says avian botulism doesn't pose a risk to humans.

Animals with botulism poisoning suffer from paralysis. Birds, for example, may drag their wings and have trouble holding up their heads.

Botulism has been a problem in recent years in large numbers of fish and birds dying in Lake Erie and Lake Huron, said Mathers.

"Botulism has been identified in Lake Ontario in previous years but we've never seen the widespread dieoffs that have been seen in some of the other Great Lakes until this year," said Mathers.

He added that government officials have been investigating an unusually high number of dead wildlife on the south shore of Prince Edward County for the past week and a half.

© The Canadian Press 2004

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