Thursday, September 01, 2011

Pelicans Dying from Puncture Wounds

By Jayson Mellom /
Some Brown Pelicans on California's Pacific coast have been appearing on beaches with odd puncture wounds, in some cases very large ones. Initially these were reported as possibly being the result of a knife attack.
Fifteen pelicans have died in recent days as a result of their chest wounds. Three were brought into the Pacific Wildlife Care center in Morro Bay on Thursday.

Two of the birds had to be euthanized because their injuries were so bad, and a third is being treated. Jeanette Stone, center director, said the wounds are more serious than the typical injuries pelicans receive from fishing hook and line entanglements....

A veterinarian examined the dead pelicans and found one to have wounds consistent with being caused by a knife or other sharp object. Wardens are continuing their investigation.

“We can’t rule out foul play,” Warden Sean Kenady said.
Now the state game wardens think the wounds may be the result of competition with sea lions.
Warden Sean Kenady said a kayaker saw a sea lion repeatedly pull a pelican under water until it failed to resurface. The department also got an email from the animal rescue group, Wild Rescue, which said its members had seen that behavior in the past....

Wardens think the injuries occurred when both animals were in a feeding frenzy on baitfish, with the pelicans feeding from above and the sea lions from below. The sea lions may have attacked the pelicans because they were competing for the same food source.
I would not have thought of pelicans and sea lions as being direct competitors, but they do share some habitats and both rely heavily on fish. So this explanation does make some sense. Confirmation (or refutation) of this explanation will come whenever the necropsies are completed.