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Wildlife experts seek answers as California pelicans die at ‘alarming’ rate

Hundreds of California brown pelicans that fell ill or died on the Golden State’s coastline in recent months apparently were unable to find food.

Nearly 700 pelicans, a protected species in the state, have been taken into care at wildlife rehabilitation facilities in Southern and Central California after a stranding event, determined to be related to starvation. 

“The pelicans arrived emaciated and frequently with secondary injuries or broken wings. Many of these birds died shortly after arrival at a facility,” the California Department of Fish and Wildlife said.

The agency, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, wildlife rehabilitation facilities and other state partners, submitted carcasses of the birds to review in order to determine the root of the problem.

Pelicans along the coastline have died after being unable to find food.
MediaNews Group via Getty Images
It is possible that a pelican population increase has created heightened competition for food.
It is possible that a pelican population increase has created heightened competition for food.
Getty Images
Scientists are still investigating the cause of the deaths.
Scientists are still investigating the cause of the deaths.
Los Angeles Times via Getty Imag

They have ruled out avian influenza and poisoning from domoic acid, a naturally occurring neurotoxin that has impacted Dungeness crabs and sea lions in the past. Some have noted that their injuries seem to suggest risky behavior while seeking food.

It’s not clear why they were unable to find food, particularly since anchovies, one of their choice meals, are “currently abundant,” the state report said. It suggested a pelican population explosion could have created more competition for food.

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