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Revived by ‘fish slushy’ diet, sickened Tacoma sea gulls take flight

Whatever paralyzed and sickened sea gulls at the Port of Tacoma in January wasn’t necessarily fatal.

Sixteen of the sea gulls survived the malady — the cause of which still remains a mystery — and were released Tuesday afternoon near the Puyallup River in Tacoma.

Staff from PAWS Wildlife Center, where the gulls recovered, lined up the 16 animal carrier boxes along the bank of the Puyallup.

Some of the boxes rocked back and forth. One gull had pecked a hole in its box, large enough to give Tippi Hedren a disturbing flashback to her role in the Alfred Hitchcock classic “The Birds.”

One by one the boxes were opened. Some of the birds hopped out on the ground while others immediately winged their way into the air.

Soon, all of them were mingling with their brethren, hundreds of which were floating down the Puyallup and flying over the Port of Tacoma.

The ill birds all arrived at PAWS the week of Jan. 22 soon after they were discovered in a states of paralysis that affected them from the neck down. The birds were discovered at the Port of Tacoma and at points around Commencement Bay.

Four of the original group were so sick they either died or were euthanized, said Jen Mannas, a wildlife naturalist with PAWS.

After they arrived at PAWS the birds were given liquids via tubes to rehydrate them, Mannas said.

“We gave them a lot of that to flush out their system, in case it was a toxin that was causing them to be paralyzed,” Mannas said.

Then, they were fed a slurry of ground-up fish.

“They weren’t able to eat solid food or keep down solid food at that point,” Mannas said.

After a while the paralysis lessened and the birds regained their ability to walk, fly, swim and preen again.

“They were acting like gulls do,” Mannas said.

Translation: bossing each other around.

Meanwhile, the search for the cause of the illness continues.

“We may never know what it was,” Mannas said.

Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541, @crsailor

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