Ducks on the Beach

Update on Large Number of Fish on the Beach

The Town and Beach Patrol have received a number of calls regarding large numbers of dead fish on the Kiawah beach. There are no water quality concerns. These fish have washed ashore from shrimp boats trawling of the Kiawah beach. Yesterday was opening day of shrimping season in South Carolina and there were 25-30 boats in our area. When shrimp boats empty their nets, the shrimp are sorted, and the bycatch (mostly small fish) is discarded overboard.  

Ducks on the Beach
Have you seen ducks on the beach recently that appear to be injured or sick? These ducks are Black Scoters, a common “sea” duck that spends the winter in the ocean along the Atlantic Coast. In the spring, adults migrate to their breeding grounds in northern Canada while the immature birds occasionally linger in or near their wintering areas. Currently, we have a couple hundred of these immature birds in the ocean off Kiawah. 

In years when we have a large population of sea ducks (scoters and scaup) in the waters off Kiawah, like we did this past winter, they can deplete their food source which consists of small clams and snails. Because the immature birds did not migrate, they are in a difficult situation. These birds are likely less fit than adults already due to inexperience, and when food is scarce, they may be incapable of moving to new places in search of food. As the birds become weaker, they end up stranding on the beach. 

All of the birds that have been collected by Town Biologists have been emaciated. This was also confirmed by the Center for Birds of Prey, a local wildlife rehabilitation center, that has received over 50 scoters in the last couple weeks. Many of these birds died within the first 24 hours or had to be euthanized. There was some concern that these birds were suffering from the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Virus (HPAI), however all of the birds that they tested came back negative. They also noted that the bird’s feathers were poorly waterproofed, which is probably a result of the bird not being able to effectively preen its feathers due to being in poor condition.           

By the time these birds end up on the beach where they can be captured, they are in very poor condition. Beach Patrol is following established protocols and capturing these birds when feasible and transporting them to an isolated part of the beach and allowing Nature to take its course. This is a natural process that maintains the balance of populations and the ecosystem.

The Center for Birds of Prey advises that if you find a stranded scoter, you should call them before trying to intervene. Oftentimes the stress related to improper capture and transport can do more harm than good. The number for the Center of Birds of Prey is (843) 971-7474 ext. 1.