Squirrel die-off in Michigan – 09/30/2004

  • October 1, 2013 at 4:11 am #585

    — In pac-pc@yahoogroups.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 water?

    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
    the river.

    “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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