satellite view from PMNM
E komo mai; welcome! Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge is surrounded by a lei of foam in the middle of the North Pacific; it's a beautiful, special place.

Not only are there albatross on Midway, but many other interesting kinds of wildlife, both on the land and in the sea. Please enjoy exploring FOAM, an educational blog actively done while on Midway from May through August 2010. Posts are added from off-Midway, as information becomes available. If you're interested in a particular topic, please use the search box or the alphabetical list of "labels" along the left side of the blog page.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Laysan Ducks: Battling Botulism

Adam holding sick Laysan Duck
Hi FOAM friends; this is Kahiko, and we Laysan Ducks are fighting a poisonous condition called botulism.  The sickness sometimes hits us when our seeps (ponds) get hot and low in oxygen in the summer.

Botulism (botch-uh-lih-zum) is a kind of food poisoning.  It's caused by a bacterium called Clostridium, and they love places with low oxygen, like old cans of green beans.  If you ever see a can of beans that's "outdated" (meaning: beyond the date marked on the can), DON'T EAT THE BEANS!  Clostridium bacteria make a poison that attaches to nerves.  Then the nerves can't control muscles, and people get sick.  Sometimes botulism attacks the nerves that connect to breathing muscles, and people die!

There's another species of Clostridium that causes botulism in Laysan Ducks.  Sick and even dead Ducks have been turning up on Midway.  Adam found the first sick duck at the Aviary seep.  (Click on the page for the Midway Map in FOAM's top menu bar.)  Look at the picture at the right.  Notice that the duck's eye is closed?  That's because the Clostridium is probably in the nerves for the eyelid muscles, and the duck just can't open its eye.  Adam brought the sick duck to the USFWS office where it was treated by Fish and Wildlife staff.

John Klavitter, wildlife scientist

First it was given a shot of "antitoxin," a medicine that will fight the botulism poison.  Next, John Klavitter gave the duck some food (Ensure, with lots of soy protein) and Pedialyte (electrolytes, or different kinds of salt.)  The duck was held in a small, clean towel while it was carried to the aviary, which is a cage or enclosure for birds.)  You can see  the duck peeking out of the towel with its left eye open; that's a good sign!

In the aviary, the towel became a bed for the sick duck.  Since the duck's nerves and muscles aren't healthy, the rolled towel propped up the duck's head.  Perhaps you can see the duck in its towel-nest under the "A-frame" within the aviary.  When the duck got healthy enough to eat on its own, there were bowls of water and food right next to it.

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After several days in the sick bay aviary, with daily care, the duck was healthy and ready to be released.  Ray Born carried the duck outdoors and put it into a special water area, which is more protected from sun and large albatross than the 20 wetland areas around Midway.  Good news; after several hours the duck had left the protected water area, free to travel anywhere on the island!  
(If you're interested in learning more about avian botulism, please visit the National Wildlife Health Center.)

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