Scientists and wildlife conservationists are baffled by the sudden malaise plaguing hundreds of pelicans along the California coast this winter. Californians have been calling rescue centers constantly, having found disoriented, exhausted, ill and dead birds in the most unlikely of places. Many pelicans have made their way much further inland than is normal for the species’ migratory patterns, and have even wound up on highways, airplane runways and backyards.
The beleaguered pelicans are also bruised and starving. Though it is still uncertain why these adult birds are unable to either hunt for themselves or eat, state and federal wildlife authorities have taken blood samples, which should provide some insight.
Some scientists speculate the birds may have been poisoned by demoic acid, which is produced by algae and absorbed into the pelicans’ food supply. The neurotoxin can cause permanent short-term memory loss and other symptoms the birds are exhibiting; however, other marine and wildlife would normally be affected as well, yet aren’t.
Scientists are also hypothesizing that an unknown pelican-specific virus is the culprit.
Whatever the case, the endangered brown pelicans and those fighting to preserve them cannot afford for this ailment to remain a mystery for long.