Scores of starving and sick pelicans are found along the California coast

Experts don’t know what is causing the birds to become sick

Eugene Garcia,Michelle Del Rey
Friday 10 May 2024 20:07 BST
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Louise Thomas

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Scores of sick, starving and dying pelicans have been found along the southern California coastline in recent weeks.

Lifeguards spotted a cluster of two dozen sick pelicans earlier this week on a pier in coastal Newport Beach and called in wildlife experts to assist.

Debbie McGuire, executive director of the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center in Huntington Beach, said the birds are the latest group that they've tried to save after taking in more than 100 other pelicans that were anaemic, dehydrated and weighing only half of what they should.

“They are starving to death and if we don't get them into care, they will die,” McGuire said. “It really is a crisis.”

Debbie McGuire, left, of the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center, watches as Newport Beach police officers load cages carrying sick pelicans into a van for treatment
Debbie McGuire, left, of the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center, watches as Newport Beach police officers load cages carrying sick pelicans into a van for treatment (AP)

It is not immediately clear what is killing California’s brown pelican population . Some wildlife experts noted the pelicans are malnourished, even though marine life abounds off the Pacific Coast.

Bird Rescue, which runs two wildlife centres in northern and southern California, reported 110 sick pelicans in the past three weeks, many entangled in fishing line or hooks.

Some of the hungry birds have attempted to grab fish caught by fishermen and get caught in the lines as a result, leaving them with deep cuts.

Tim Daly, a spokesperson for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, which is tasked with trying to find the causes of sick and dying animals, said that the problem seems to stem from a spell of bad weather in April that caused visibility problems for the birds, leaving them unable to spot fish in the water.

Rehab facilities are picking up the birds and feeding them the prey they’re unable to find for themselves, with the aim of releasing them back into the wild, Mr Daly said.

A similar event occurred in 2022 when wildlife facilities treated hundreds of brown pelicans, which are a fully protected species in California.

Then, as now, birds were found emaciated. Many had secondary injuries or broken wings and died after arriving at the wildlife facilities. Results from testing later showed that the birds had died from starvation-related problems, even though there were no indications of disease or unusual parasites.

Hundreds of birds were eventually released back into the wild in good health. However, experts never discovered the root cause of the issue and do not know the cause of the problem today. Still, the number of cases in 2024 is down compared to those in 2022.

Brown pelicans are not considered an endangered species.

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