Northern gannet

The northern gannet is a seabird that rarely comes ashore in New Brunswick. (Atlantic Wildlife Institute)

An emaciated northern gannet found on Campobello Island last week is now a patient at the Atlantic Wildlife Institute near Sackville.

Tourists spotted the starving seabird — now named Conley — sitting on a beach on Campobello Island last week. That is not something normally seen, said Pam Novak, co-founder of the wildlife centre.

"They would never beach," she said. "These are pure seabirds. These are the largest seabird we have and they rarely come to land unless they're getting blown off course from a storm.

"They don't usually come to land like this unless there is something very wrong."

This is migration time for northern gannets as they move from the six or seven breeding colonies that exist in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Atlantic Canada to the warmer temperatures of the Gulf of Mexico and South America, said Novak.

The wildlife institute has been taking in starving gannets occasionally for the last 10 years, said Novak. There is no explanation for the birds being so emaciated.

"He's just really underweight, quite malnourished," said Novak. "But with really no tell-tale signs of what's wrong. That's what's always been the mystery when we've gotten these birds in.

'For it to beach itself, it's in its last process of almost kind of giving up. That's the big mystery.' - Pam Novak, Atlantic Wildlife Institute

"It's just a total depletion of their fat and body reserves," she said. "For it to beach itself, it's in its last process of almost kind of giving up. That's the big mystery."

The northern gannet has a dagger-like bill that it uses to spear fish in the sea. Novak is now hand-feeding fish and syringe-feeding fluids to Conley four or five times a day, and taking great caution in doing so.

"Their bill is razor sharp and they mean business with it because this is their weapon, this is how they hunt their prey," said Novak.

The wildlife institute in Cookville aims to nurse ailing animals back to health and reintroduce them into the wild. The effort to get Conley off the island in the Bay of Fundy and to the wildlife institute was complicated by geography, said Novak.

"Even though it's still part of New Brunswick and in Canadian waters, you can't take the bird or any kind of animal off the island and in through the States to get it back to the mainland, even if you are bringing it back in to Canada," said Novak. "So there was a bit of a stickler right there."

In the end, the Campobello Whale Rescue team transported Conley to New Brunswick by water and friends of the institute who were passing through the area completed the transport of Conley by land.