The deaths, which occurred during the winter and early spring, were the result of an algae-borne neurotoxin linked to the invasive weed hydrilla, The Augusta Chronicle reported.
Scientists working to find ways of controlling the problem say they aren’t the first bald eagle deaths linked to the weed. They say 11 eagles died in the area during the previous season.
The eagles succumbed to avian vacuolar myelinopathy, caused by algae that grow on mats of hydrilla, wildlife officials said. The weeds are part of popular feeding sites for small aquatic birds, which are eaten by eagles and help spread the disease to them.
Low water levels and unseasonably warm temperatures may have hastened the growth of the weed, made it more accessible to birds and helped spread the disease, said Ken Boyd, a biologist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The deaths are the focus of research by wildlife agencies and University of Georgia scientists.
One options being studied involves introducing grass-eating carp to the reservoir in hopes that the fish would eliminate the hydrilla, which in turn might reduce the likelihood of disease outbreaks.
Despite the eagle deaths at Lake Thurmond, the overall bald eagle population in Georgia continues to expand, the state Department of Natural Resources reported last week.
Information from: The Augusta Chronicle , http://www.augustachronicle.com