Deformed frogs found in Kenai wildlife refuge

Deformities may indicate pollution

Posted: Tuesday, August 15, 2000

KENAI Scientists have found increasing numbers of deformed frogs on the Kenai Peninsula, raising concerns about pollution that could affect people.

As a result, Alaska has joined a nationwide study of abnormal amphibians. Scientists worry the amphibians, which are sensitive to their environment, could be responding to problems that could eventually harm people, such as contamination or increased ultraviolet radiation from the sun.

Im very surprised at the number we found, Kim Trust, environmental contaminant specialist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Anchorage, told the Anchorage Daily News.

Some 26 deformed wood frogs were found in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Most had leg deformities, but one was missing its eyes, and another had an unusually bulging eye, said biological technician Heidi Tangermann. Its the largest number of frog abnormalities ever reported in the state.

The preserved bodies of the frogs collected last month from 16 ponds near the Swanson River oil field will be sent to the U.S. Geological Survey Madison Health Lab in Wisconsin so researchers could examine them.

Over the last five years, a growing number of deformed frogs and toads, as well as a decline in frog populations, have concerned scientists worldwide. But before now, no more than a handful of deformed frogs had been reported in Alaska.

In a normal frog population, only about 1 percent will be deformed. But in three of the Kenai ponds studied, the deformity rate was significantly higher, Trust said. In one pond, the rate was 16.9 percent. Of all the frogs examined, more than 6 percent had problems.

At least some of the frogs probably lost limbs to such everyday dangers as fish, water bugs or voracious dragonfly larvae, Trust said.

Ted Bailey, supervisory wildlife biologist at the refuge, has been studying wood frogs there for nearly 10 years, ever since worries first arose about a decline in amphibians worldwide.

He is reserving judgment until more information comes back from the lab.

Well just have to wait and see what the final verdict is about the cause of these deformities, Bailey said.

The first results should be in by January.

Alaska was one of 31 states to participate in the Fish and Wildlife Service study of wildlife refuges. It was given $20,000 to look for such animals in the Kenai refuge. Another $20,000 has been approved to continue the research next year.

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