More than 1,000 starving geese couldn’t overcome fog and strong winds near Cambridge Bay in August, according to veterinarians who examined the remains of some of the birds.
The snow geese, greater white-fronted geese and cackling geese, mostly young specimens, died Aug. 16-20 at Long Point Beach.
Three of their carcasses, scavenged and decomposing, were shipped to the University of Calgary’s Department of Veterinary Medicine for a wide range of testing.
The lab results showed that the birds had little to no fat and shrunken chest muscles. In addition to being malnourished, it was also detected that one of the birds had a toxic amount of salt in its brain. It’s suspected that the starving birds were consuming significant quantities of sea water due to being dehydrated.
“Geese have salt glands that allow them to drink salt water but those are not fully developed in juvenile birds, making them more susceptible to intoxication from drinking salt water,” explained Amélie Desmarais, a spokesperson with Environment and Climate Change Canada.
Sustained strong winds and fog at the time further worked against the frail birds.
“It appears likely that these young geese were not in good enough condition to complete the crossing from Victoria Island to the mainland under those conditions,” Desmarais added.
Bobby Greenley, chair of the Ekaluktutiak Hunters and Trappers Organization, told Nunavut News in late August that he believed exhaustion and environmental conditions were major factors in the death of the geese.
“I’m thinking it’s just all natural. They couldn’t make the distance across the ocean. Big winds, big waves when they landed – they’re just so tired they couldn’t keep their heads up, maybe,” Greenley said at the time.
Based on extensive testing, veterinarians eliminated other potential causes of death, such as avian influenza, botulism, avian cholera, Newcastle disease, duck viral enteritis, lead or other heavy metal intoxication, according to Desmarais.
“In conclusion, this mortality event appears to have been due to natural causes,” she stated.