October 1, 2013 at 4:11 am #585MikeKeymaster
— In email@example.com, Rocky Ward <rachelleward2> wrote:
Why “ARE” they winding up in the water? This “IS” weird!
State biologists are mystified by a mass squirrel die-off that has
left more than a hundred dead squirrels washed up on West Michigan
Among the questions: Why are the expired tree dwellers ending up in
The first possibilities to be checked are disease or parasites. The
odd circumstance will remain a mystery for several more weeks as the
Michigan Department of Natural Resources conduct tests on tissue
Nik Kalejs, a DNR biologist with the Muskegon Game Area, said
samples from squirrel carcasses have been sent to laboratories at
Michigan State University for analysis. Officials believe it is
likely the squirrels are dying from natural causes. Lab technicians
will be looking at a variety of causes, include squirrel pox or
possibly West Nile disease.
“We cannot rule anything out,” he said. “What we do know is the
number of dead squirrels found seems to go beyond normal.”
For the past three weeks, West Michigan residents have been noticing
a large number of dead squirrels along Lake Michigan, fueling
speculation that the animals are being ravaged by a disease or are
being poisoned. DNR officials say deliberate poisoning is highly
unlikely because of the number of squirrels being affected and the
wide area where squirrel bodies are being found.
There is a possibility of food contamination. They said there have
been reports of dead squirrels along much of the Lake Michigan
shoreline in Michigan.
“All of these will be explored,” Kalejs said.
Russ Bleich, who was a DNR conservation officer for Muskegon and
Ottawa counties for 30 years, recalled a similar situation years ago
where construction work along the U.S. 31 drawbridge in Grand Haven
caused a number of squirrels to die and fall into the Grand River.
The incident caused a large number of squirrel bodies to wash up on
Lake Michigan beaches around Grand Haven, he said.
Just as Lake Michigan beaches are littered with garbage carried by
the Grand River from communities upriver, Bleich suspects most of
the dead squirrels are being carried to Lake Michigan beaches by
area rivers. He said these beaches are likely the final resting
spots for the squirrels and the animals are not dying in Lake
Michigan or on its beaches.
“It’s just like seeing a bunch of spend shotgun shell casings on the
beach; they were carried to the lake by the rivers,” he said. “The
same goes for the squirrels. My gut feeling is this is a natural
occurrence and that the squirrels are being carried downstream by
“When all of this settles, I believe it is going to be some natural
occurrence or some parasite.”
Some of the tissue samples were collected by DNR officers at P.J.
Hoffmaster State Park’s Gillette Nature Center. Nature center
workers said the squirrels first were noticed on the beach about
three weeks ago, but have no reports of a large number of bodies
found in the woods.
The number of bodies found on the beach has been steadily declining,
they said. Most of those affected are fox squirrels.
The squirrel deaths have been a hot topic with area high school
biology classes. Grand Haven High School Biology teacher Roger Glass
said his students have been buzzing over a recent phenomenon of dead
squirrels, in alarming numbers, along the lakeshore.
“I’ve never heard of anything like this before. There’s something
very strange going on,” Glass said.
Glass said if it was just one species it might be a certain disease
or disorder. Otherwise, there would be various species involved.
Student reports indicate fox and red squirrels have been sited
swimming or dead along the shoreline.
“I have no idea what’s going on,” Glass said. “The DNR was talking
about somebody poisoning them and they go for water. But … it
can’t be just somebody poisoning them because they’re all up and
down the lakeshore.”
DNR investigators have collected squirrel carcasses as evidence to
determine a cause for the problem. Samples have been sent to a lab
to determine whether a disease may be to blame for outbreak of dead
Grand Haven Senior Ashleigh Urbanik, 17, has noticed dead squirrels
floating along the boardwalk and pier as well as others swimming.
“Someone built a stick bridge from a pile of branches to the shore
so they could cross. We rescued three of them. They were fox
squirrels,” she said. “Once we got them out they just sat there
because they were so tired. They looked normal except for they were
sopping wet and really tired.”
Grand Haven Township resident John Stuparits said he walked along
the boardwalk recently and saw dozens of squirrels in the river.
Some of the squirrels were still alive and fishermen scooped them up
with nets to save them.
Stuparits, who is the manager of Grand Haven’s wastewater plant,
said at first glance he thought maybe high waters from rain around
Labor Day might have caused the problem. But as Stuparits saw more
floating carcasses, he realized it was a bigger problem than that.
“At first, you think maybe one or two of them fell in,” he
said. “But after several consecutive times going down there and
seeing the same thing, you have to think there’s more behind it.”
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