San Pedro Rescuers Treating More Sick Pelicans

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San Pedro Rescuers Treating More Sick Pelicans

From ContraCostaTimes.com

"This is a new phenomenon we're seeing. We're trying the best we can to respond to this."

"We're working hard to find other resources to get these birds help or we will see more birds dying," Wallerstein said. "This is a crisis and a tragedy to the pelican population."

Rescuers are running out of room to help hundreds of emaciated and sick California brown pelicans along the West Coast.

At least 250 brown pelicans were treated over the past month at the International Bird Rescue Research Center in San Pedro, where the sickly birds are kept warm by heaters and feast on a bountiful high-protein fish diet.

"When we have enough resources to do so, these pelicans respond to good food, clean water and warmth," said Paul Kelway, regional program manager for the San Pedro center. "This is a new phenomenon we're seeing. We're trying the best we can to respond to this."

About 160 pelicans are getting treatment at the bird rescue center for starvation or frostbite, feeding on an estimated 4,000 pounds of fish each day. Many of the pelicans are bathed to wash off contaminants that have caused a natural protective seal to erode from their feathers.

The birds generally become healthier after seven to 10 days, then get released back into the wild.

Other rescue groups in California and Oregon are either full or near capacity, said Peter Wallerstein, a marine animal rescue specialist with Friends of Animals.

"We're working hard to find other resources to get these birds help or we will see more birds dying," Wallerstein said. "This is a crisis and a tragedy to the pelican population."

Over the past month, Wallerstein has spotted starving pelicans lying on roadways, along the beach and in front of homes. A long pole and net are usually needed to capture pelicans, but the birds have become so weakened that Wallerstein is able to walk up, grab their beaks and place them into cages.

"They're really easy to catch right now, which is not a good thing because it just shows how disoriented and unhealthy they are right now," Wallerstein said.

Researchers are stumped in finding a reason for the mass starvation and deaths among brown pelicans. The birds suffered frostbite and became weakened during last year's migration season, likely caused by storms in Central California.

Possible explanations for problems this year include water contamination, the rainy El Nino season or changing ocean currents that have pushed food farther below the surface.

"That's the million-dollar question right now," Kelway said.

"No one really know why the pelicans are not finding the food that they normally would right now or why that protective coat is disappearing."