August 27, 2001
Pelicans in peril
Already endangered, brown pelicans encounter
Up and down the coast
they are arriving, like casualties in an undocumented war. Some
will be rescued and receive critical medical care in time, while
others will slowly die, unseen and uncounted.
Brown Pelicans, already federally listed as endangered,
are fighting new wars in the 21st century, and they may be losing
the battle in spite of federal laws with fines as high as $200,000
for harming them.
In the past month, more pelicans have arrived at
International Bird Rescue Research Centers (IBRRC) Northern
California hospital than it received in six months last year.
And the birds are arriving ahead of schedule. Typically
we start to receive large numbers of pelicans in August because
the youngsters are out on their own and running into trouble.
But this year, we are seeing more adult birds with injuries
caused by fishing lines and fish hooks, said Rehabilitation
Manager Coleen Doucette.
Some of the pelicans that IBRRC gets in are beyond
hope; hooks have punctured eyes, torn gaping holes in pouches,
and caused infections that are untreatable. Fishing lines wrapped
around wings and legs restrict blood flow and movement, causing
slow starvation and death unless the animal is quickly rescued,
usually by people who see the birds in trouble.
Doucette said its particularly bad for pelicans,
because they are endangered, but anything that swims, dives,
or eats from lakes and oceans can be snared by discarded hooks
and lines, including porpoises, turtles and even whales. Wildlife
rehabilitation centers in Florida are finding that 85 percent
of the pelicans there have had an encounter with fishing lines
and/or hooks at some point in their lives.
The world turned very hostile for brown pelicans
in the 20th century. Theyve endured one battle after another,
sometimes barely hanging on. In the late 19th and early 20th
centuries, they were killed for their feathers, to adorn womens
hats. During the food shortages following WWI, pelicans were
slaughtered by the thousands because fishermen believed they
were decimating commercial fishery resources, and their nests
were frequently raided for eggs. With the advent and widespread
use of pesticides such as DDT and DDE beginning in the 1940s,
populations again plummeted as pesticides entered the oceans,
and the food chain, causing eggshells to be so thin they broke
The population of brown pelican colonies off Southern
California shrank by more than 90 percent during the late 1960s.
For decades a chemical plant had been discharging thousands
of pounds of the pesticide into Los Angeles County sewers, which
then entered coastal waters where it was absorbed by anchovies
and other fish eaten by pelicans.
Then in 1996, another blow came to the brown pelicans
when an outbreak of avian botulism caused 735 deaths at the
Salton Sea. Outbreaks occur every year and some are worse than
others. Biologists studying the birds in the Channel Islands
also fear an oil spill, which could devastate the only breeding
colonies of Brown Pelicans in the western US.
Pelicans are an indicator species, says
Jay Holcomb, IBRRCs director, They tell us when
theres trouble in the environment. Were taking note
of this trend because young pelicans typically have a high mortality
rate, but that doesnt affect the population as much as
the death of a mature pelican who would have had many years
of breeding ahead of it. We need to educate people, and especially
people who fish, that a careless action, like cutting a line,
especially one with a hook and bait, will surely mean death
to the animal that eats it or gets tangled in it. And if you
are fishing off a boat, always scan the area for pelicans before
you throw out your line, or chum. Pelicans are opportunistic
and are always looking for a free lunch. Dont do anything
to attract them, because they might take your fish and line,
causing a dangerous situation for both you and the bird.
IBRRC is taking the situation seriously and is beginning
to collect data from other wildlife centers to try and determine
how many pelicans are coming in due to fishing line injuries.
With a population of only about 5,000 breeding pairs, Holcomb
feels every pelican successfully treated and released, can make
a difference. In addition to their research, IBRRC is planning
to work with other non-profits, wildlife rehabilitation centers
and government agencies to begin an educational campaign, similar
to ones being used in Florida where signs and special containers
for fishing line are provided in popular fishing spots.
Were taking the first step, Holcomb
said, educating the public about what is going on right
in their backyard, right now and were hoping that others
Return to list of
Office: (831) 622-7588
Home | About
us | Blog | Background |
centers | Education | Help
us | Media | Oil
@ 2011 (IBRRC)
International Bird Rescue Research
Center All Rights Reserved
policy • Phone:
(707) 207-0380 •