snow geese
© Nature Trust of B.C.
Snow geese
Officials with the Canadian Wildlife Service are looking into the cause of a mass die-off of snow geese near Cambridge Bay, Nunavut.

Waterfowl biologist Eric Reed said "a few hundred" dead snow geese were found at Starvation Cove, 30 kilometres west of Cambridge Bay in late August. The cause of the deaths is unknown.

"We're still trying to get people out there and and hopefully get some samples, get some more information as to what happened," he said.

There have been several other die-offs of snow geese in recent years, including another one near Cambridge Bay in 2017 and one near Gjoa Haven, Reed said.

But he added that there have been other reports of healthy populations, so until the most recent die-off can be better investigated, it's impossible to be certain about the cause.

Too many birds competing for limited food

Reed said the previous two die-offs were caused by starvation related to poor weather conditions, which is a fairly regular occurrence. He also said snow geese on Victoria Island have been overpopulated in recent years. That means too many geese competing for limited food.

"For the past three decades, there have been conservation measures in place to try and reduce the size of that population to prevent further degradation of the habitat in the environment and to protect other species," he said.

"So maybe ... we are starting to see a stabilization of that population or even a decrease. Our monitoring programs are showing that this population is on the decrease, which in this case is not of concern because that's where we want it to go."

But Reed said repeated die-offs would be cause for concern, so officials will monitor the situation to see if it gets worse.

Despite the high numbers of snow geese, it's still illegal to hunt them between June 30 and August 15.

In the meantime, the wildlife service hopes to get its hands on some samples of dead snow geese. Any diseases that the birds might suffer from aren't transmissible to humans, but he urged anyone who might come across a dead goose to use caution.

Handle the carcass with gloves and hand it over to a conservation officer as soon as possible, he said.