Monday, February 22, 2010

Why Are Pelicans Dying in California?

For the second winter in a row, hundreds of Brown Pelicans have died or been sickened along the coast of California for reasons that remain unclear.

When found alive, the birds appear hungry and disoriented. But necropsies performed on dead pelicans found that they had been eating, so the casualties don't appear to be from lack of prey. But their stomachs did contain unusual prey, like squid—not the sardines and anchovies they normally dine on.

Many of the pelicans also appear to have some sort of unidentified residue on their feathers, which may affect the feathers' insulating ability. "When we wash them, you can tell something is coming off. The water is discolored, like when you wash really dirty clothes," Jay Holcomb, director of the International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC) in Cordelia, Calif., told The Mercury News. "That's not normal."

Scientists don't know where this residue is coming from or what it is exactly, but so far theories include side effects from red tide or pollution runoff into the ocean.
Unfortunately the agency responsible for managing wildlife, the California Department of Fish and Game, has no money for an investigation because of the state's budget crisis.

Wildlife rehabilitation organizations, such as the International Bird Rescue Research Center, have been doing their best to rescue and treat sick pelicans. The IBRRC alone has handled 435 sick pelicans since the start of January. However, there have been so many sick pelicans that the groups' resources have been strained to the limit, especially for supplying food for so many pelicans at once.