Dead gannets
Dead gannets
More than a dozen dead sea birds were discovered on local beaches last Friday. Their cause of death is waiting to be determined by a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission veterinarian.

A mix of common loons and young gannets were found on beaches at Henderson Beach State Park, June White Decker Park and O'Steen Public Beach Access. ECWR wildlife health technician Shelby Proie said staff collected six of the bodies to be sent to an FWC veterinarian based in Gainesville where the bodies will undergo necropsies.

Michelle Pettis, who is also a wildlife tech at ECWR, said there were groupings of around four birds at the beaches. At the O'Steen site, some residents from a nearby condo helped point out the birds to ECWR, one of which was still alive.

"By the time they got to the second group (of birds), the bird had passed away, which is very unfortunate," Pettis said.

The two species of birds are an interesting combination to be found together, Proie said. Loons can be found along the Emerald Coast year-round, while gannets are migratory birds.

Pettis added that the refuge does get a lot of calls about loons throughout the year. Sometimes their awkward body language leads people to think they're in distress.

"They're kind of like the possums of the ocean," Pettis said. "They're very odd birds and they're not meant to be on land. Sometimes a stormy season gets them pushed inward and they get closer to shore. I was waiting to get more calls on Saturday about loons, but we didn't get any."

Proie said there was no sign that the birds were poisoned or harmed. She guessed that the food supply decreased as fish moved into deeper waters when the weather got chilly over the past week. Lack of food can leave the birds in a weakened state making it difficult to breathe or fly. It also leaves them vulnerable to diseases such as aspergillosis, she said.

Because of the mysterious nature and number of bird deaths, FWC has stepped in to help investigate, which can take around eight weeks.

"We want to make sure there is not a health issue for animals or humans at the beach," Pettis said.

The birds were "barely decomposed" when they were found Friday morning, Pettis said. Neither of the birds are endangered species.