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State Fish and Wildlife experts say starvation was cause of May’s pelican pandemic

Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Ever since mid-May, wildlife rehabilitation facilities all over central and southern California were seeing an influx of brown pelicans falling severely ill, including Santa Barbara's own Wildlife Care Network which received more than 200 of the birds in just two weeks.

The pelicans were arriving at rehab facilities severely weak, emaciated, and unable to fly in some instances. Some were hypothermic, injured, unable to move, or found in odd locations.

The birds have seemingly been getting better, as the Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network has been able to release some of the sick birds back into the wild fully recovered.

After investigating the issue, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife found that primary reason for the birds' illness was starvation.

For some reason, the pelicans were unable to find the anchovies that they primarily feed on, despite the abundance of the small fish.

"It is unclear why these pelicans were not able to find enough prey over this relatively short timeframe in May," the department said in a report released on Friday. "It is possible the prolonged periods of unusually strong winds in late April and early May interfered with their ability to forage."

The department also said that the pelican population has been increasing over the recent years, potentially leading to more competition for food resources.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, among with other facilities and state partners, submitted pelican carcasses for postmortem testing to determine the cause of death.

Of the pelicans that were necropsied, the primary finding was emaciated body condition – there were no diseases or toxins detected.

"The cause of this stranding event was determined to be starvation," the report found. "The factors that contributed to starvation are still under investigation."

Article Topic Follows: Santa Barbara - South County
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Jade Martinez-Pogue

Jade Martinez-Pogue is the Assignment Editor and web journalist at News Channel 3-12. To learn more about Jade, click here

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