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Type E Botulism


Type E botulism is a form of food poisoning. The toxin is produced by a bacterium, Clostridium botulinum. C. botulinum produces several types of toxins, characterized by the letters A through E. Animals are affected after ingesting the bacteria, either through eating or drinking. The toxin remains viable in live animals, carcasses, maggots, and water. The toxin causes paralysis of the animal's muscles.

Where it Occurs

Type E botulism primarily occurs in the Great Lakes region. The first reports in New York involved an outbreak in Lake Erie in 1999.

Animals it Infects

This disease is responsible for extensive waterfowl and fish kills, mostly affecting the following species:

  • fish-eating or scavenging waterbirds (gulls, ducks, loons, mergansers, and cormorants)
  • fish (smallmouth bass, rock bass, channel catfish, and lake sturgeon)
  • mudpuppies (large aquatic salamanders)


  • Affected birds cannot hold their head up, which may cause waterbirds to drown (i.e., limberneck).
  • Birds, especially gulls, cannot fly or walk properly, often dragging a wing.
  • Birds may have paralysis of the third eyelid.
  • Birds may swim in circles or be unable to right themselves while on the water.
  • Fish struggle or swim erratically near the surface of the water.
  • Fish usually die quickly and are most likely seen washed up on shore.

Report Dead or Sick Animals

Call a DEC Division of Fish and Wildlife Office - see contact information below
It is important to record the location, type of birds or fish, and number of carcasses found. DEC documents these events and may collect animals to examine. If there is a large die-off, DEC may not be able to remove all dead birds and fish from the shoreline. Removing carcasses helps prevent the spread of botulism as the toxin in the carcasses can serve as a source of outbreaks for several months.

To safely remove birds or fish carcasses from the shore:

  • Wear disposable, rubber, or plastic gloves, or invert a plastic bag over your hand when handling any sick, dead, or dying animals.
  • Double bag the carcass and dispose of them in your household trash or bury them away from shoreline areas. Bury them deep enough (two feet or more) to discourage other animals from digging them up.
  • Contact a wildlife rehabilitator if sick birds are found.

Human and Pet Health

Swimming in Waters Where Affected Wildlife are Found
Botulism is typically not a risk when swimming in waters where affected fish or wildlife is found; however, botulism cannot be diagnosed without testing. There are other harmful algal toxins that may cause sick and/or dead birds and fish. If you have concerns about water quality, swim in a regulated beach area or contact your county health department by visiting the NYS Department of Health (link leaves DEC website).

Bringing Pets to the Shore
If you bring pets to the shore, keep them away from sick or dead animals on the beach. They may contain harmful bacteria or toxins. If your pet comes in contact with carcass, wash your pet when you return home. Keep them out of water with extensive algae mats (scum on the surface of the water). Contact your veterinarian if your pet appears sick after a visit to the shore.

Eating Fish or Game from the Great Lakes
Humans can get Type E Botulism if the toxin is ingested by eating an infected fish or animal. Cooking may not destroy the toxin. Do not eat animals that show signs of illness. Wildlife can carry various diseases.

General Safety Tips for Preparing Healthy Fish or Game

  • Wear rubber or plastic protective gloves while filleting, field dressing, skinning, or butchering.
  • Remove intestines soon after harvest, don't eat intestines, and avoid direct contact with intestinal contents.
  • Wash hands, utensils, and work surfaces before and after handling any raw food, including fish and game meat.
  • Keep fish and game cool with ice or refrigerated (below 45°F or 7°C) until filleted or butchered.
  • Cook fish and other seafood to an internal temperature (in the thickest part) of 140° F (60° C); cook game birds to an internal temperature (in the thickest part) of 165° F (74° C).

Check the Fish and Game Health Advisories
The NYS Department of Health issues advisories on eating sportfish and game as some contain chemicals at levels that may be harmful to your health.

For information on these advisories:

More Information

Visit Sea Grant's website (leaves DEC website).

Contact a DEC Division of Fish and Wildlife Regional Office:

  • Allegany: (716) 372-0645
  • Avon: (585) 226-2466
  • Buffalo: (716) 851-7010
  • Cortland: (607) 753-3095
  • Cape Vincent: (315) 654-2147
  • Syracuse: (607) 753-3095 Ext 247
  • Watertown: (315) 785-2263