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Aquarium joins the Oiled Wildlife Care Network to help save birds impacted by toxin in a California lake

Staff from the Aquarium are assisting with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s emergency effort to help migrating birds impacted by the deadly avian botulism event

a rescued bird in a pair of gloved hands

Credit: Eunah Preston/OWCN

November 16, 2023

November 16, 2023, Long Beach, CA—Hundreds of migrating birds stopping at a lake in California have been impacted by a deadly avian illness contracted through ingesting the toxin in the water. The Aquarium of the Pacific’s animal care staff have been working to help save birds through the avian botulism emergency response effort under the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) through the Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN) at Tulare Lake in Kern County.

This effort includes state, federal and non-governmental organization partners such as the Aquarium of the Pacific. Avian botulism is potentially fatal to affected birds without treatment. The Aquarium began helping with the emergency response in late summer of 2023. The Aquarium staff members help to administer veterinary services to the birds affected by the toxin responsible for this illness.

“The main help the birds have needed is to be provided with supportive care and hydration. Our staff have been extremely dedicated to the cause, putting in long hours to help these animals. We are proud of this partnership with CDFW and OWCN to help these birds get a chance at recovery and returning to the wild,” said Erin Lundy, conservation coordinator - mammals and birds, Aquarium of the Pacific.

Birds use Tulare Lake as place to breed or rest during their migrations. These birds may feed on brine shrimp and other filter feeding animals, which can also transfer the toxin to the individual bird. More than 1,000 birds of varying species have been helped to date with more than 800 birds released back to the wild; a more detailed summary can be found on the OWCN’s impact summary.

After a very wet winter this past year, Tulare Lake filled up with more water than usual. This created an environment where the naturally occurring toxin-producing bacteria living in the soil could thrive. While Tulare Lake is the largest lake west of the Mississippi River, it historically has been dry due to drier months.

OWCN and the Aquarium have also responded to past emergencies locally such as the elegant tern rescue in the Long Beach harbor in 2021 and the emergency response to help oiled birds in Orange County in 2021.