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January 22, 2001


For more information contact:
Al Ivany, NJ Division of Fish & Wildlife, 908-637-4125

As of Monday, January 15, New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife biologists and staff from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service counted approximately 160 dead Atlantic brant near Brigantine Island, Atlantic County. In addition, another 240 dead brant were collected in adjacent wetlands with tally efforts still underway.

"We greatly appreciate the cooperation and assistance of the forensic experts on the state and federal levels. While only a small fraction of the overall brant population seems to be involved, this is a disturbing occurrence because of the concentrated number of bird deaths," said Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Shinn.

"This recent die-off appears to be linked to the earlier mortalities in November and is only affecting the Atlantic brant population," said Division Director Bob McDowell. "Though the cause is still unknown, tests continue to be conducted to rule out various contributing factors."

Aerial surveys from Barnegat Inlet to Stone Harbor revealed that the majority of affected brant are in Atlantic County near the Brigantine Unit of the Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. Though unlike the related November die-off, the refuge impoundments, which are currently frozen, are not the principal site of mortality.

Through previous testing, pathologists have been able to rule out pesticide and rodenticide contamination and the West Nile virus. In addition, starvation is not being considered a contributing factor since physical measurements indicate that the birds are of normal weight. Another series of tests will be performed from recent blood samples taken from three live diseased birds to identify bio-toxins and/or antibodies to disease-causing organisms.

The diagnostic effort is being conducted jointly by the New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife's Office of Wildlife Health and Forensics, the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisconsin, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, Division of Animal Health, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Veterinary Services.

Though the hunting season for Atlantic brant is closed, individuals are still cautioned to avoid handling or consuming Atlantic brant until further notice. In addition, any sick or dead waterfowl should be reported to the Forsythe Refuge at 609-652-1665. Atlantic brant is a small, brown, black and white maritime goose that breeds in the Canadian arctic and winters along the Atlantic coast. On average, 75 percent of the Atlantic brant population winters in New Jersey. In January 2000, 157,156 Atlantic brant were counted in the Atlantic Flyway. Of these, 120,225 were in New Jersey, mainly in the coastal salt marshes and estuaries.