Toronto Star, Sat. October 22, 2011 /
Thousands of dead birds have flooded the shores of Georgian Bay in a scene that locals compared to the devastation from an oil spill.
Dead loons, ducks and seagulls covered “every foot” of Wasaga Beach Provincial Park’s shorelines on Saturday, said local Faye Ego, who walks her dog there daily.
“It’s like when you see the oil slicks,” Ego said. “It turns your stomach. It’s awful.”
Between 5,000 and 6,000 dead waterfowl are scattered along a 3-kilometre stretch near Wasaga Beach, said Ontario Provincial Police Const. Peter Leon.
Botulism appears to be the culprit behind the masses of dead birds based on information from the Ministry of Natural Resources, police said.
The deadly disease is caused by toxins that lake-bottom bacteria produce under certain conditions. Fish were likely infected, then died and floated to the surface.
A “free-for-all eating frenzy for the waterfowl” ensued, Leon said, which subsequently resulted in their deaths.
Stormy and windy weather over the past couple days pushed the dead birds to shore.
He is unsure who will be responsible for cleaning up the lifeless waterfowl, which included mallards and pintail ducks. Tourism to the area is unlikely to be affected because it is not high season, he said.
Dead birds have been appearing on the area’s beaches for the past few weeks, he added.
And dead sturgeons, known to be bottom feeders, started washing up in August, Ego said.
There was also an influx of dead birds at this time last year, she said, but she has never seen anything like this before.
“It would make you cry,” she said.
She questioned why no one from the ministry had come to pick up the carcasses as of Saturday evening.
“I’m fighting to keep my dog off the beach,” she said. “His nose is going up in the air a million miles an hour.”
Officials from the Ministry of Natural Resources did not immediately return requests for comment on Saturday.
However, the ministry identified a “die-off” of birds and fish in Georgian Bay in a news release earlier this month.
Small scale “die-offs” occur annually around the Great Lakes, with the largest being in Lake Ontario in 2007, according to the ministry.
Botulism is rarely dangerous to humans so long as food is properly handled and cooked, but dead birds and fish should not be eaten.
Police said the provincial park remains open, but warned people to keep their children and dogs away from the dead birds.