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ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- Dead and dying seabirds are washing up on the Florida coast in numbers one local vet said she's never seen before.

"Right now what we're seeing is a huge epidemic of these birds being found on the beach," said Kathleen Deckard, D.V.M, with St. Johns Veterinary Hospital in St. Augustine.

Among the dogs and cats being treated at the veterinary office Deckard calls the hub for wildlife in the area, three birds are clinging to life.

"They deteriorate very quickly," Deckard explained.

Deckard said 14 greater shearwater birds have been brought in since Tuesday. Only three are still alive.

The seabirds migrate every year from a group of islands in the South Atlantic to the New England area.

"They're usually more offshore feeding and we're finding them in huge numbers on the beach, where they are very lethargic," Deckard said. "Many of them have already died."

Thursday, Deckard discovered the problem isn't localized; the sick and dead birds are turning up all along the Florida coast.

According our sister newspaper, Florida Today, more than 100 of the birds have washed up from Cape Canaveral to Vero Beach in recent days.

"The number of birds is far greater than we have ever seen before," Deckard said.

The birds that have died are sent to the University of Florida in Gainesville, where experts are working to determine if the birds are dying from environmental causes, a toxin or something infectious.

Deckard hopes to find an answer soon.

"If there's something we can treat these birds when they come in so that we can get on top of it sooner, we may be able to save some of their lives," Deckard said.

Deckard asks that any birds found be brought to St. Johns Veterinary Hospital in St. Augustine.

She said it is okay to handle the birds, and that they are not aware of any potential health concerns to humans.

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