As recent as yesterday, we still had a good amount of pelicans on the Big Creek beach. They were diving into the creek attempting to eat trout. We saw another 5 dead ones over the weekend. California Department of Fish and Game has begun an investigation on what may be causing the death of hundreds of pelicans across the State. See below for the news release.California Department of Fish and Game News Release
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – February 11, 2010
Contacts: Esther Burkett, Wildlife Biologist, (916) 445-3764
Dana Michaels, Information Officer, (916) 322-2420
DFG Investigating Cause of Brown Pelican Deaths
The California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) is collaborating with
other wildlife experts to investigate a brown pelican crisis all along
the California coastline. Since mid-January, hundreds of the seabirds
have been coming ashore in a variety of conditions, from merely confused
to dead. Veterinarians, wildlife rescue and rehabilitation groups, Sea
World, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and others are pooling their
resources to determine the cause of these popular birds’ distress.
Wildlife rescue centers from the San Francisco Bay Area to San Diego
are collecting the live pelicans and saving as many as possible. The
International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC) facility in San Pedro
has more than 200 sick and injured pelicans in-house. IBRRCs San
Francisco Bay Oiled Wildlife Care and Education Center in Cordelia has
received more than 100 pelicans, and more are brought in each day.
Many of the pelicans are wet, meaning that their feathers’ insulating
properties have been compromised and their feathers have parted,
exposing their skin to the cold ocean water and winter weather. Thus, in
addition to whatever has made them ill or disoriented, they are also
suffering from hypothermia. None of the pelicans received from the
Monterey Bay area thus far had significant feather fouling, but some
pelicans in southern California did, and the severe winter storms and
resultant urban run-off may be a factor.
“We don’t know what’s causing this yet, but we’ve sent feather samples
to various laboratories for analysis. It always helps to have multiple
sets of eyes looking at things from a pathology perspective,” said DFG
Wildlife Veterinarian Melissa Miller, in Santa Cruz. Results of various
tissue and organ analyses are not yet available to help determine the
cause of the die-off. The El Niño condition in the marine environment
may be a factor.
DFG’s Marine Wildlife Veterinary Care and Research Center in Santa Cruz
has performed necropsies on 12 pelicans. Most of these were adults in
breeding plumage that ranged from thin to good nutritional condition.
Three of the dead pelicans had innkeeper worm parts in their intestines,
and a few had what appeared to be seal or sea lion bite wounds on the
breast, neck or back, with secondary bacterial infections. The
necropsies have found that pelicans are eating unusual prey items, which
is indicative that they are having trouble finding or accessing their
normal prey of anchovies and sardines.
IBRRC is feeding the captured birds with more than 1,000 lbs. of fish
per day between its two centers. Unfortunately, the IBRRC is running out
of money. Because of the state’s enormous budget deficit, DFG has no
funds to contribute but has sent biologists to assist IBRRC staff with
pelican care in Cordelia, and DFG volunteers in southern California are
assessing the number of dead pelicans on beaches. Anyone who wishes to
help with care of the pelicans can make donations online at
http://www.ibrrc.org. Donations are tax-deductible.
“As someone who has been rehabilitating marine birds for more than 40
years in California, I must say that I have never seen anything like
this that has lasted this long,” said IBRRC Director Jay Holcomb. “There
seems to be no end to this.”
The staff are banding and releasing rehabilitated pelicans as quickly
as possible. Rehabilitated pelicans have blue-colored bands with
identifying numbers to help track their survival in the wild.
Anyone who sees pelicans that appear to be sick or injured, or
entangled with fishing line should not touch or approach them. Injured
wildlife will instinctively defend themselves and may injure someone
trying to help them. To report pelicans in distress, the public can
phone either 800-39-WHALE in Los Angeles County or 866-WILD-911
elsewhere. The latter number is also good for reporting dead marine
DFG is also advising the public not to feed the pelicans though some
may appear to be begging or very weak. Feeding can lead to habituation
to humans, and that can lead to conflicts in the future, such as
entanglement in fishing line on or near piers. Improper feeding could
also cause damage to the pelicans throat pouch or worsen their sickness.
Though it is difficult to observe the pelicans in distress, it is a
normal process for some to die in winter due to natural causes. Natural
mortality is the inevitable consequence of the constant balancing
between animal populations and shifting supplies of needed resources.
California brown pelicans were removed from both the state and federal
endangered species lists in 2009.
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