Thursday, January 8, 2009

California Brown Pelicans: found inland disoriented or dying

There is a mystery brewing in Southern California regarding brown pelicans that have local conservation groups baffled. These local sea birds that are often seen cruising in long lines low over the water's edge are now being found inland dead or dying, in a state of disorientation and extreme fatigue.

Wildlife experts say that these birds are subject to similar symptoms in the spring and summer months due to algae toxins like domoic acid, sometimes found in phytoplankton blooms or high algae growth fed by partially treated waste (see previous posting) - but not in January.

Bird rescuers have sent blood samples and carcasses to laboratories for testing and an answer will hopefully be found soon. Unfortunately, there is no "cure" for algae toxins like domoic acid; either the animal survives it or is permanently impaired or dies. Other theories range from low tolerance to toxins from previous exposures to ingestion of fire retardants and other chemicals as a result of rain runoff from areas damaged by recent fires.

"Pelicans have been hammered over the years by oil spills, DDT, domoic acid, fishing line, gunshots, starvation and parasites - we're experts at dealing with those problems," said David Weeshoff of the International Bird Rescue Research Center . "But right now, we're scratching our heads over the cause of this event. Not a good deal." (Read more.)

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