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Wildlife officials raise concerns after numerous 'emaciated' pelicans found stranded along coast: 'It really is a crisis'

"If we don't get them into care, they will die."

"If we don't get them into care, they will die."

Photo Credit: Getty Images

The California coast is littered with brown pelicans mysteriously starving and turning up injured, creating a crisis that has wildlife experts deeply concerned. This alarming situation is leaving communities and rescuers scrambling to save these iconic birds before it's too late.

What's happening?

As reported by The Guardian, lifeguards in Newport Beach reported finding two dozen sick pelicans on a pier, while the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center in Huntington Beach has treated over 100 malnourished birds. Sadly, a number of pelicans have died.

"They are starving to death, and if we don't get them into care, they will die. It really is a crisis," said Debbie McGuire, the executive director of the center.

"Most birds are coming in cold, emaciated, and anemic," added Bird Rescue research and veterinary science director Dr. Rebecca Duerr.

At the time of the report in mid-May, nonprofit organization Bird Rescue had taken in more than 235 sick pelicans, with many suffering from severe injuries caused by fishing lines and hooks. That number has now grown to more than 300. 

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has also reported a significant increase in malnourished pelicans from Santa Cruz to San Diego since late April.

Why is the pelican crisis concerning?

The presence of injured pelicans in unusual locations, like a lake at SoFi Stadium and a fire station in Malibu, underscores the severity of the situation. Brown pelicans are federally protected, and their distress signals a broader environmental issue.

The malnutrition and injuries they are experiencing suggest potential disruptions in the marine ecosystem, which could have cascading effects on other wildlife and human activities. If we lose too many pelicans, the biodiversity of the marine ecosystem could be lost.

Think of biodiversity as the ocean's safety net — it ensures that there's a rich variety of life with different roles to play, which helps the ecosystem stay resilient in the face of changes or shocks. For example, if one species is affected by a disease or a change in the environment, others can step in to fulfill its role, keeping the system balanced. Without this balance, multiple species, including humans, can be harmed.

What's being done about the pelican crisis?

Efforts are underway to address this crisis. Wildlife rehabilitation centers, such as the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center and Bird Rescue, are working tirelessly to treat and care for the affected pelicans. The CDFW is also conducting postmortem exams and testing live birds to determine the underlying causes of their malnutrition. 

Additionally, the public can help by supporting these nonprofits through donations or volunteering. Responsible fishing and proper disposal of fishing gear can also prevent further injuries to these birds. The situation with the brown pelicans is a reflection of the progress we still need to make for our environment.

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