A dozen California brown pelicans released into the wild after mysterious mass illness

The pelicans were sick – hungry, dehydrated and in dire need of help.

It’s still a mystery why hundreds of brown pelicans in California became ill last month, stranded on the sand along a Southern California coastline and some even found inland — but for a dozen birds, their return to health gave hope. marked a moment. Struggling species.

The Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center on Friday, June 17 released a rehabilitated dozen from Corona del Mar, a mob on the beach that broke free from cages and flew over the ocean.

While the afternoon was a milestone, there were also concerns that the rehabilitated pelicans might be back again, needing more help.

“We are releasing him for uncertain reasons,” said Debbie McGuire, executive director of the Huntington Beach-based care center that brought her in. “If it’s a problem with fish stocks, they can get trapped again and come back to boomerang.”

According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, disease among birds began to spread in mid-May, when several wildlife rehabilitation facilities south of San Luis Obispo County to San Diego County began accepting hundreds of California brown pelicans, a protected species in the state. done.

Many had symptoms similar to those of the disease: emaciated, dehydrated, severely low body temperature. Some had parasitic or secondary injuries, such as broken wings. Dozens of people died before recovering.

Fish and Wildlife is conducting postmortem examinations and testing the pelicans that have been brought to rehabilitation facilities.

The results suggest that pelicans are falling prey to starvation-related problems. Currently, there are no signs of disease or unusual parasites and fish and wildlife officials have been unable to pinpoint an underlying cause.

In total, about 700 pelicans were taken to various rehab organizations for treatment across the region, according to Tim Daly, a public information officer for the agency.

Daly noted that at least 200 died or were euthanized at facilities and an estimated 80 birds were found dead before being taken to care centers – thought those figures may have been underestimated because of all the deaths. There is no information.

Fish and Wildlife tested 21 dead birds, none positive for avian flu or domoic acid, a natural toxin related to algae levels.

“Hunger is still thought to cause health problems – we don’t yet know what causes starvation,” Daly said.

About 70 birds were taken by the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center in the Bolsa Chica Wetlands. In the first hour or two, about two dozen died.

McGuire is hoping that more Pelicans will be healthy enough to be released in the coming weeks.

Those released on Friday were tied with the help of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network, so anyone who starts struggling on the shoreline can be identified — part of an effort to piece together the mysterious disease plaguing pelicans. .

“If they come under similar conditions in two or three weeks, we still have something going on,” McGuire said.

He has a theory as to why pelicans are starving, pointing to the effects of global warming as a possible culprit.

“My gut is that this is global warming,” she said. “The warmer temperatures are driving the bait fish too low.”

Typically, brown pelicans will explore the ocean 60 feet above the water, see a ball of bait fish and dive about 6 feet below the surface to intercept their meal.

“If the bait fish is deep, they can’t catch them,” she said. “If whales and dolphins are pushing bigger fish to the surface, they can catch them. If that’s not getting enough, they’re not getting food.”

Recently there have been reports of less being trapped and they are expected to have fished closer to the surface of the sea.

Another possibility is that a thick red tide emanating from Southern California last month may have affected the bird’s feeding capacity.

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