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A bald eagle found dead earlier this month fell victim to the same type of botulism that's killing fish in Lake Erie, authorities said Monday.

The bird, our nation's symbol, was found dead in the Chautauqua County community of Ripley, said Dr. Robert Berke, the county's health commissioner. It was a male, born earlier this year and banded June 1 by the state Department of Environmental Conservation in Delaware County.

The eagle had a wingspan of eight feet, Berke noted.

"Our pathologist looked at it and determined it died from a Type E botulism," said Mark Kandel, a senior wildlife biologist with the DEC.

Late last month, the DEC confirmed Type E botulism was found after waves of dead and distressed sheepshead started washing up along the Lake Erie shoreline in Chautauqua and Erie counties. And last year, Type E botulism was confirmed in an estimated 5,400 to 6,500 waterfowl that washed up along the Lake Erie shoreline.

Eagles feed mainly on fish, but also are known to eat carrion, including waterfowl, Kandel said. "It's very likely that it picked this up from Lake Erie -- we can't say it definitively."

Type E botulism is very toxic, Kandel said. "It's extremely lethal; it can kill within hours."

It is a paralyzing disease that results when animals or humans ingest toxin produced by botulism bacteria. Berke said symptoms can include acute nerve impairment of the skull and descending weakness or paralysis. Visual problems, trouble swallowing and dry mouth are primary complaints.

"We mourn the loss of a living symbol that represents our American heritage and freedom," Berke said. "However, it reminds us to pay heed to the warnings issued by the DEC last month."

Fishermen and waterfowl hunters are advised to refrain from eating sick or dying fish or waterfowl. Disposable gloves should be worn while dressing fish and game, and when canning or smoking fish or waterfowl, methods incorporating heat should be used.

Type E botulism started showing up several years ago in the Western Great Lakes. Wildlife experts are watching it progress toward the Niagara River and keeping an eye on Lake Ontario, Kandel said.


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