Late last month, residents of Savoonga and Gambell on St. Lawrence Island began finding hundreds of dead seabirds as they washed ashore.
This week, state officials said the event was from a common disease, and is no cause for concern.
On Wednesday, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said in a press release that tests showed the birds died from Avian Cholera – which is a lot less terrifying than it sounds.
“Avian Cholera is not related to the disease Cholera that affects humans,” Cathie Harms, a wildlife biologist with ADF&G, said. “It is only a disease of birds; it’s relatively common around the rest of the world.”
“The unusual thing is that Avian Cholera had not been detected in Alaska before; it had been found in Canada, but this is the first time we’ve found it in Alaska.”
She says even with a large die-off like the one recently seen off St. Lawrence Island, it’s a relatively natural event.
“We had heard that people had concerns of why birds were dying and appearing on the beach,” Harms said. “The good news is although birds died, it’s not something that can hurt people and it isn’t related to the environment or other issues – it is just an outbreak.”
“These outbreaks tend to run their course in a relatively short period of time and in fact we are hearing fewer reports of dead birds as the days go on.”
The Department of Fish and Game recommends putting the carcasses in vented metal oil drums. That way the carcasses can decompose without causing any more illness to spread to scavengers or other animals.