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Biologists have a new theory on what may be creating a health crisis for California's Brown Pelicans

Biologists have a thory on what may be causing a surge in illness among California Borown Pelicans.
R. Lowe
U.S. Fish And Wildlife Service
Biologists have a theory on what may be causing a surge in illness among California Brown Pelicans.

Experts say it could be connected to a shortage of the fish which make up their limited diets.

It’s a crisis which has puzzled biologists along the Central and South Coasts for weeks.

What has been leaving hundreds of brown pelicans sick, and in some cases dead?

"Starting in early May, we were starting to see an increasing number of pelicans coming into our local rehabilitation centers," said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Deputy Field Supervisor Jenny Marek.

"It really picked up about a week and a half ago, with the centers being swamped," said Marek. "Most of them are starving...most of them are showing starvation effect."

She says the crisis comes at a tough time. The birds have just bounced back from the brink of extinction.

Biologists still haven’t made any conclusions, but they think the problem may stem from the pelicans food supply.

"They're going after sardines and anchovies, and kind of those fisheries sources," said Marek. "They might not all being able to find enough fish to feed them."

It's the leading theory at this point. There are no signs of any other disease, or parasites impacting the pelicans.

Marek says it doesn’t appear that other types of birds are being impacted by whatever is happening.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist says if you encounter an injured bird, call your local rehabilitation center, and they will come get it. And, she says never feed the birds, because they will become dependent on it.

The biologist says many of the birds brought to rehabilitation facilities have survived, but for some it was too late. The ill pelicans have been turning up from San Diego to the Bay Area.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.