Gull fatality rate on Route 52 Causeway increases in first week of August

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OCEAN CITY – The average of one dead seagull a day being removed from the Route 52 Causeway doubled in the first days of August, according to officials from the Ocean City Humane Society, prompting increased concern, but little urgency from other organizations.

Executive Director Bill Hollingsworth, who reported 40 birds had died in the 40 days from the last week of June through the end of July, said his animal control officers retrieved six dead gulls and one dead Canada goose in the three days between July 30 and Aug. 1, upping the average to two dead birds a day. In the six days between Aug. 2 and Aug. 7, seven more dead birds and one bird so severely injured it had to be euthanized were removed, Hollingsworth said. That totals 15 dead birds in nine days, a 60 percent increase in the average number of fatalities in the first week of August alone, and a total of 52 dead birds in a 46-day span.

“I worry about the safety of our employees,” Hollingsworth said, noting that Humane Society staffers are averaging three weekly trips to the causeway to retrieve dead gulls. “No one is slowing down out there,” he said, alluding to the speed with which motorists travel.

Hollingsworth is also concerned about the mental stress his staff is experiencing.

“All we see is the negative side of things,” he said. “I have to tell the staff everyday we’ve heard nothing from the DOT (Department of Transportation).”

Joe Dee, a spokesman for the NJDOT, which led the construction on the $500 million, 2.5-mile long route between Somers Point and Ocean City, said Wednesday, Aug. 8 that a consultant is “observing that location and starting to gather some information.” He could not say where the consultant was located or how often the consultant was making observations.

For unknown reasons, the gulls – which congregate on a north-facing rail near the Somers Point end of the span – are unable to successfully become airborne quickly enough after leaving their perch and are being slammed into the roadway, where they are killed upon impact or run over by vehicular traffic.

Governor's office unaware, OCPD unresponsive

Asked if Gov. Chris Christie’s office was aware of the number of gulls being killed on the state-built roadway, Sean Conner of the governor’s press office replied, “That’s a new one for me, my friend.” He added that he would educate himself about gulls and the situation before formulating an official response.

“It’s premature to speculate on a resolution, but we are working on it,” Dee said, adding the state agency had been in touch with NJ Audubon, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and the Fish & Game division of the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection, as well as Ocean City business administrator Mike Dattilo.

Dee could not say when that contact with Dattilo had taken place, nor what the nature of the contact had been. He also said he could not locate any communication from the Ocean City Police Department, which Hollingsworth had said last week was taking the lead in contacting the DOT on behalf of the city and the Humane Society. Hollingsworth, who said he and Police Chief Chad Callahan had agreed last week that they would recommend the installation of bird spikes on the bridge, said he has not received a response from the OCPD since emailing Callahan on Aug. 2.

OCPD Capt. Steve Ang did not return a call seeking comment.

Dee said the DOT was aware of the city’s recommendation to have bird spikes installed along the stretch of railing where the gulls are gathering because a story posted online by The Gazette last week included that information.

“We will be speaking with other officials, including the Ocean City Police Department,” Dee said, “and we will be talking to wildlife experts. We will evaluate all options and suggestions that are proposed and will proceed in an orderly way.”

How long before someone dies?

Hollingsworth is afraid there will be a human cost before the problem is solved.

“Are they going to wait until someone is killed before they do something?” he asked.

He is concerned about the motorists on the causeway, as well as his employees. He said it's only a matter of time before a gull rocketing toward the road crashes into a car and causes a motor vehicle accident.

But, keeping his people off the bridge is not a consideration, Hollingsworth said.

“We will continue to rescue birds because it’s our mission,” he said. “All our animal control officers said they will continue to go out because they don’t want the birds to suffer because somebody is not taking action to fix the problem.”

Humane Society Manager Angela Coyle, who is certified to euthanize birds in the absence of a veterinarian, is the one who has dealt most closely with the dead bird debacle. Euthanizing birds that are too badly injured to treat and rehabilitate causes conflicting emotions.

“There is nothing worse than doing nothing if an animal is suffering,” she said. “It’s the humane thing to do. It’s better to euthanize them than have them starving to death on the road or run over or eaten.”

She laments that the situation continues to escalate.

“It’s so sad they are dying in such a senseless way when something that could be done isn’t being done,” she said.

As for what proactive measures the Humane Society is taking, Hollingsworth said the board of directors had voted to allocate funds to purchase light bars for the organization’s truck in an effort to make it more visible to motorists, and that he had invited state Sen. Jeff Van Drew to appear at the shelter on Monday, Aug. 13, at which time he planned to ask the elected representative, a known animal lover, to take the cause to the governor.

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