Walkers along Schuster Parkway first spotted dead seagulls on Jan. 21. Then there were dead birds spotted along Ruston Way, at Port of Tacoma shipping terminals, Point Defiance and North Tacoma’s waterfront neighborhood of Browns Point a day later, but also as far north as Des Moines, some 10 miles away from port operations as the workweek started.
“This is definitely abnormal,” Citizens for a Healthy Bay Director Melissa Malott said, noting that there are no reports of spills or accidents from container ships or other industrial activities on the industrial tideflats that could have caused to mass poisoning of the birds. “I think we would have heard something at this point, but there definitely has been something that has killed a lot of birds.”
All total of about 60 seagulls have been found either dead or paralyzed. Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists have few answers as to why. Initial test results found no unusually high levels of chemicals or lead at this point, although other heavy metals, particularly mercury, have not been ruled out. State and contracted laboratories are continuing to test the birds, which otherwise show no signs of injury or exposure to chemicals that could have killed or paralyzed them.
“The bottom line is that we don’t know what is killing them yet,” Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Madonna Luers said. “There is no evidence of a toxic spill in the area.”
More test results from the state laboratory and at the PAWS Wildlife Center in Lynnwood, where paralyzed seagulls are being treated and monitored, are expected later this week.
Adding to the mystery is that all of the dead birds are the same type of bird, the glaucous seagull. No other species of bird, such as a heron, crow, goose or duck have been affected.