Duck Die-Off on Ballona Creek

August 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

Creekfreaks, sad news of a duck die-off on lower Ballona Creek, same general vicinity as our last post on Ballona.  That’s all we know at this point.  Lisa Fimiani, Executive Director of Friends of Ballona Wetlands sent the word out to Ballona Creek Stakeholders – follow the jump for her email.

(Note, LACF didn’t include the photos referenced)

Ballona Creek Stakeholders,

There has been a major incident on the Ballona Creek that has resulted in
the deaths of over 60 Mallard Ducks.

Some of the attached photos may be disturbing.  They were taken between the
90 Freeway and Inglewood Avenue on the Bike Path.


The Friends of Ballona Wetlands received an email and phone call from a
concerned person who left the message below:

Date: Saturday, August 6, 2011 7:37:50 PM
Subject: Friends of Ballona Wetlands Website | Contact Form
Message: There has been a sudden die-off of mallard ducks on Ballona Creek.
I just saw half a dozen dead ones on the banks near Centinela overpass.
Pedestrians told me they saw about 15 dead ones between Centinela and the 90
overpass. I also just left a phone message. I have noticed an unusually
heavy influx of what looks like algae or other green matter over the last
few days, which may or not be related this die-off.


I went over to the McConnell Boulevard entrance today around 11AM to
investigate.  I immediately found 2 dead and 1 dying Mallard Duck at the
McConnell Drain.  As I walked towards Centinela Avenue, I saw bodies of
ducks on both sides of the Creek, as well as some ducks that were still
alive.  It was then that I called the Department of Fish and Game’s Help
Line – DFG-CAL-TIP: (888) 334-2258.

A warden was dispatched and met me at the site an hour later.  As we walked
the Creek it was apparent that some of the ducks might be saved.
International Bird Rescue and Research Center (IBBRC) was called by the
warden and we waited until he arrived to point out the living ducks.
Meanwhile, I contacted LMU’s new Center for Urban Resilience and Dr. Eric
Strauss meet me and the warden on the Creek.  We assessed the situation and
discussed options for having the water tested later in the week.

The DFG warden took water samples and was also taking a dead duck back for
possible analysis.

When the IBRRC rescuer arrived, he and the warden started capturing weak
ducks.  Meanwhile, I drove over and captured a sick duck on the other side
of the bike path, which we had seen earlier.  In total we gathered 7 ducks
and 1 pelican that had been tangled in fishing line (unrelated to the
incident).  Although a number of ducks eluded capture, the IBRRC rescuer
feared they might exhibit symptoms over the next few weeks.

The warden also contacted the County Department of Public Works.  We met a
gentleman from DPW on the bike path who was going to deploy a crew to remove
the dead ducks, probably tomorrow.  Although we counted 60 dead birds, there
is a very good possibility there are many more – because we could not access
the other side of the Creek or see inside the plants growing on either side
of the banks – and the tide was coming in.


There is no way of telling what has happened to these ducks at this point.
The odd thing is the Creek was literally jumping with fish, so whatever
poisoned the ducks was not apparently affecting the fish.  Other birds did
not seem to be affected either:  Brown Pelicans, Black-necked Stilts,
Yellowlegs, Sandpipers, American Coots, a Black-crowned Night Heron, a Grebe
and a Great Blue Heron were along the Creek, seemingly OK.

The County Public Works man on site thought perhaps someone had dumped
something toxic into a storm drain upstream.  However, there was no way of
telling what the source of the cause of the deaths was, and to complicate
matters, there were a number of duck carcasses and a pelican carcass that
had been there for a while – possibly indicating their deaths had nothing to
do with this incident at all.


The sick and dying ducks exhibited behavior that would indicate possible
“red tide” (domoic acid poisoning) or botulism.  But it could be anything
really – chemicals, a virus, bacteria. Etc.  We watched them stagger –
unable to control their body movements, in various stages of distress.

IBRRC will be deploying a crew to come out and monitor the remaining ducks
on the Creek over the next few days to see if any of them get sick.


Fish and Game should be commended for coming out and dealing with this
incident so efficiently, as well as IBRRC.  I have copied a number of
departments with the City and County on this email and would most appreciate
if someone from Public Works would get back to me on the status of their
findings, or contact Diana Hurlbert with Santa Monica Bay Restoration
Commission so she can disperse updates to the stakeholders.


The fact that two major drains on the Creek in the vicinity of the dead
ducks were recently “cleaned out”, may be worth investigating – since these
storm drains were full of mud and algae and possibly toxins that got into
the Creek and affected the birds.  There is no confirmation of this, but it
should certainly be investigated.

My day ended at 5P on the Creek with DFG and IBRRC, and then I went home to
process these photos.

I plan on checking with IBRRC tomorrow and over the next few weeks to see
how the ducks are doing.  They have a 50/50 chance of making it on average
after a rescue – but it will all depend on how far along they are with this
apparent botulism – whether they will survive.  The treatment involved
flushing their system of the toxins, and it could take weeks for them to
recover.  I must remind everyone, IBRRC does this without pay.

Realistically, it may be impossible to determine what made these ducks sick,
which means all the efforts on the part of DFG and IBRRC and the County
Workers crew that has to remove the dead carcasses and dispose of them, will
probably not be compensated by the perpetrator.  And the perpetrator may
just be a naturally occurring phenomena… nature running it’s course in the
Creek.  To be continued.

Lisa  😐

Lisa Fimiani
Executive Director
Friends of Ballona Wetlands
211 Culver Boulevard, 2nd Floor Suite K
Playa del Rey, CA  90293
(310) 306-5994 Office
(310) 339-2737 Cell


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