Wildlife rehab prepares to treat birds poisoned by red tide

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A black skimmer rescued Aug. 22 and brought to Wildlife Inc. Rescue and Rehabilitation in Bradenton Beach eats a fish from its bowl. Islander Photos: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes
About 30 pelicans take flight Aug. 21 — part of a large squadron of 100 or more — that were observed on the southwest side of the Anna Maria Island Bridge as dead fish accumulated near the base of the bridge in the northernmost area of Sarasota Bay. Islander Photo: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes

There’s a crisis looming.

Anna Maria Island’s wildlife rescue facility is getting ready for more of red tide’s victims.

Ed Straight, president of Wildlife Inc., a home-based rescue and rehabilitation facility in Bradenton Beach, was cleaning out cages Aug. 21 in preparation for more birds sickened by red tide.

As of Aug. 22, Wildlife Inc. was rehabbing nine laughing gulls, two ospreys, a cormorant, an anhinga and a black skimmer, all exhibiting symptoms indicating red tide exposure.

Another anhinga was brought to the facility Aug. 20, but it was too weak and died in the night.

For 31 years, Wildlife Inc. has rescued and rehabilitated birds, mammals and reptiles in Manatee and Sarasota counties.

The organization is a volunteer-based nonprofit that runs on donations and grants.

Straight said the Wildlife Center of Venice, also a rescue and rehab facility, had more than 50 rescued birds since the outbreak started and he’s concerned Manatee County won’t be far behind.

“They are about two weeks ahead of us with the red tide down there,” Straight said. “The longer the birds are out there without live food, the more tempting the dead fish will look.”

Straight said he received several calls the weekend of Aug. 17 regarding a gathering of about 200 pelicans during low tide on the southwest side of the Anna Maria Island Bridge.

The birds appeared to be lined up along the flow of the current through the Intracoastal Waterway.

“I think they were probably trying to find water that’s not polluted,” Straight said. “The rookeries where they would normally hang out, near Cortez and Galati’s Marina on the north end of the island, are packed with dead fish.”

On Aug. 22, the squadron of pelicans had dissipated, with only a handful remaining at low tide, only to return in large numbers on subsequent days. They sometimes numbered 100 or more.

Red tide conditions in Manatee County had worsened by Aug. 22, according to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reports, and dead fish were piling up near where the pelicans had gathered.

“They’ve probably moved farther north to cleaner water,” Straight said Aug. 22.

He said most of the birds cared for the week ending Aug. 24 were weakened from a lack of food, but others suffered from red tide poisoning.

“The bottom line is that they will eat dead fish if they are hungry enough,” Straight said. “Unfortunately, that’s when we will get busy.”

For more information, or to report a sick or injured animal, call Wildlife Inc. at 941-778-6324.

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