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July 15, 2004

Pelicans face further hardship

San Pedro center working hard to save starving California Brown Pelicans

Photo of Brown Pelicans feeding

Feeding pelicans (IBRRC photo)

A t International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC) in San Pedro, the staff and volunteers are once again overwhelmed with California brown pelicans. Previous summers have been spent treating this endangered species for fishing line/hook injuries, domoic acid poisoning, botulism and young pelicans who havenít been able to find enough food to survive. But this year, starving pelicans are showing up by the hundreds. Why the pelicans are starving remains a mystery, however, researchers are hard at work to explain the latest peril to the pelicans. Although some of the birds respond to supportive care, many donít and the death toll is climbing.

IBRRC’s center, located at Fort Mac Arthur in San Pedro, is currently caring for 30 debilitated, dehydrated, and emaciated pelicans, mostly young birds two years old or less. “This is the time of year that we typically start getting in juvenile pelicans, either because they can’t find enough fish to eat, or their fishing skills aren’t yet perfected. When they’ve used up their energy reserves they beach themselves, exhausted,” said Jay Holcomb, Director of IBRRC. “Upon intake, we carefully examine them, to make sure they don’t have injuries from fishing lines or hooks that would compromise their ability to plunge dive. They are weighed and blood samples are taken. The blood work is showing they are emaciated and anemic, signs of a lack of adequate nutrition. Their course of treatment is typically two to three weeks of rest and fish. The birds are not showing signs of domoic acid poisoning, or abnormal parasite loads.”

See: Pelican project

Bodies of dead birds are being sent to laboratories run by the state and federal governments and the UC Davis veterinary school. Pathologists will determine whether the birds were infected with avian influenza, algal toxin or a viral disease like west Nile virus. Botulism is a significant cause of mortality for brown pelicans at the nearby Salton Sea, but it is typically not a concern for the coastal population.

IBRRC is caring for pelicans that have come from the Newport Beach area to Santa Barbara. In the past two weeks, hundreds of brown pelicans have been rescued.

The majority were found in the San Diego area and taken to SeaWorld. 30 brown pelicans crash-landed in Arizona, apparently mistaking the heat-induced shimmer of paved surfaces for water.

California brown pelicans are a sub-species that nearly became extinct in the late 1960s’ from DDT and DDE, which caused their eggshells to thin. When they were listed in 1970, only 200-300 breeding pairs remained. Today, biologists studying the bird’s breeding colonies, the majority of which are on West Anacapa Island and the Channel Islands, estimate their population to be approximately 6,000 breeding pairs.

IBRRC is a proud member of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN) a legislatively mandated program within The California Fish and Game, Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) which strives to ensure that wildlife exposed to petroleum products in the environment receive the best achievable treatment by providing access to permanent wildlife rehabilitation facilities and trained personnel for oil spill response within California.

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Media contact:

Karen Benzel, International Bird Rescue Research Center, karen@ibrrc.org

Office: (831) 622-7588

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