Scientists blame food shortage for sick pelicans

DOWNEY - The mass-stranding of pelicans along the California coast may have been caused by rough winter weather and a shortage of food, officials with the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) said this week.Brown pelicans have been turning up sick along the California and Oregon coast since 2009, some with little or no body fat and atypical foods in their digestive tracts, officials said. The current El Nino event may have put a strain on pelicans' preferred prey items, including anchovies and sardines, said Melissa Miller, a wildlife veterinarian with DFG. "Unfortunately, we are looking primarily at a cyclical event driven largely by weather and oceanographic conditions," Miller said. "Food shortage coupled with bad weather have taken a toll on the pelicans." Some pelicans have also had waterproofing problems with their feathers, possibly related to storm runoff from recent heavy coastal rains. Scientists do not believe disease or marine toxins are to blame. Officials with the Downey-based Southeast Area Animal Control Authority (SEAACA) have collected stranded pelicans within their service area and transported them to a rehabilitation facility in San Pedro, "although these facilities have been overwhelmed at the sheer magnitude of birds stranding along the coast," DFG officials said. Authorities warned that starving and sick pelicans may fly into unusual places and demonstrate unusual behaviors. Anyone who spots a stranded or dead pelican is urged not to handle the bird but instead to call (800) 39-WHALE.

********** Published: February 26, 2010 - Volume 8 - Issue 45