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The carcasses of thousands of migratory seabirds washed up on the coast of eastern Canada this week, and preliminary investigations show the birds died of avian flu.

Since May 2022, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has confirmed 13 positive cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza in the eastern Canadian province of Newfoundland.

Environment and Climate Change Canada is doing more research to confirm that seabird deaths are linked to avian flu, said Peter Thomas, a wildlife biologist with the centre.

Migratory birds suspected of having avian flu are seen washed ashore at Point Lance in Newfoundland, Canada, on July 25, 2022.

Migratory birds suspected of having avian flu are seen washed ashore at Point Lance in Newfoundland, Canada, on July 25, 2022.
(Reuters/Greg Locke)

Dead herring gulls, Iceland gulls, common crows and American crows are most affected by influenza, Thomas said.

According to the Canadian Wildlife Service, the avian influenza virus is contagious and affects domestic and wild birds worldwide.

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The Canadian Wildlife Service is working with the provincial government of Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative, to contain the outbreak.

Highly pathogenic avian influenza is also spreading rapidly on Vancouver Island, the British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said, also infecting birds such as great horned owls, bald eagles, great blue herons, ducks and geese and crows.

Migrating gannets nest at Cape St. Mary's Ecological Reserve in Newfoundland, Canada on July 25, 2022.

Migrating gannets nest at Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve in Newfoundland, Canada on July 25, 2022.
(REUTERS/Greg Locke)

“Every day I get 10 dead phone calls,” said Elizabeth Melnyk of the Elizabeth Wildlife Centre, BC.

“Wildlife centers in the country usually choose to rescue the dying ones because the dead ones are picked up by the city,” she said.

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According to the World Organization for Animal Health, avian influenza is a respiratory pathogen that causes high mortality and poses a serious threat to the poultry industry. It spreads naturally among wild waterfowl worldwide and infects domestic poultry and other bird and animal species.

According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, domestic birds can contract avian influenza and spread the disease to humans, so wild birds should not be handled when they are sick or dead.