October 30, 2013 at 1:41 am #830MikeKeymaster
Wildlife biologists investigate turtle, seabird, whale deaths
Strand incidents unrelated to red tide
By Kelly Marshall
The Sun News
The deaths of a female pygmy sperm whale, several seabirds and
loggerhead turtles found in Horry and Georgetown counties in the past
several weeks have not been linked to red tide, an algaelike bloom
that is spreading down the coast.
At least two greater shearwaters, a species dying in large numbers
along the Atlantic Coast, were found at Myrtle Beach State Park,
interpretive ranger Ann Wilson said.
About 19 loggerhead turtles, a Wilson’s storm-petrel and at least one
pygmy sperm whale have been found in different locations along the
Grand Strand, according to park rangers.
Wildlife biologists have not determined the exact cause of death for
the whale and cannot say what is causing the turtles or birds to
Some of the turtles have been sent to the S.C. Aquarium in Charleston
Tests still are being done on the seabirds and the pygmy sperm whale
to determine an exact cause of death.
“You have to look at trends over the years to see if you have a large
amount [of strandings] for this year,” said Wayne McFee, a marine
biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s
National Ocean Service. “We didn’t have any large numbers of mammals
to wash up. We’ve had kind of a quiet year.”
The whale found at Sand Island recently had given birth, McFee said.
She was about 11 feet long and was alive when found. The calf was not
The whale had an empty stomach and was covered in parasites, he said.
She might have become ill and been swept in by the tide, McFee said.
Wildlife biologists in several areas still are studying what killed a
large number of seabirds this year. Since June 12, more than 500 dead
seabirds have been reported from Maryland to Florida.
Wildlife pathologists did not find any signs that the birds were
poisoned, said John Gallegos, a wildlife biologist with the Back Bay
National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia Beach, Va.
Some of the birds appeared malnourished, he said.
“We have gotten e-mails from fishermen saying the shearwaters are
coming unusually close to the boats and trying to get to bait in the
containers,” he said. “That could be a sign that there is a food
Reports of dead shearwaters have come from the Outer Banks of North
Carolina, as well as Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head Island.
Almost 200 birds have washed up in South Carolina, said Diane Duncan,
an ecologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Charleston.
Tests on two of the birds ruled out toxins found in red tide, Duncan
Despite some turtle strandings, turtle watchers have been encouraged
by nesting activity on local beaches.
Two new nests were found at 26th Avenue South in Myrtle Beach early
Tuesday morning, Wilson said. The nests were moved to Myrtle Beach
State Park to protect the eggs, Wilson said.
“In 11 years, we have had only one other time when there were two
nests laid [close together],” Wilson said.
More than 32 nests have been found in Horry and Georgetown counties
Last year, which was considered to be the worst on record, 40 nests
were found from North Inlet to the N.C.-S.C. border.
“We’re doing better than last year,” Wilson said. “Last year, we
broke the record in a negative way.”
Turtle nesting season started in June and will continue through early
The Associated Press contributed to this report
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