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Fishing hooks and monofilament line
Oil spills and pollution
Environmental and other "natural" causes
Intentional injuries

What we can do to help — Also visit the Resources page of this website

Fishing injuries are among the most devastating. Monofilament line cuts deeply, winding around legs, often causing such neurological damage that the pelican has to be euthanized. Hooks wound cruelly but usually can be removed without lasting damage. This young pelican, with an unusually sweet disposition, was found recently in Port Hueneme. Care Hospital, 301 East Haley Street, Santa Barbara, removed the monofilament line that was cutting deeply into her right leg and volunteer rehabilitator June Taylor of the Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network (SBWCN) medicated. Because of the cut's depth, prognosis is uncertain.

standing pelican with injured foot June medicating pelican hook and line
injured foot
oiled pelican head

Oil tankers pass within a mile of the California Brown Pelican breeding ground on Anacapa Island. Offshore oil wells spot the coast. As beachgoers know, oil seeps occur in many places along the Santa Barbara shoreline. Skilled and intense washing of feathers, Dawn the detergent of choice, and rehabilitation can restore essential waterproofing, but it is time-intensive work.

The International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC) is a world leader in oiled bird care, sponsoring training classes for volunteers as well as being a location for hands-on care in a state of the art facility. Santa Barbara was the site of the largest oil spill on the west coast in 1969 when a Union Oil platform 6 miles offshore blew out. Click here for UCSB Geography Department photos.

2 juvies rehabbed

Pollution is a continuing potential problem. However, it is thrilling to know that since the banning of of DDT and DDE in the 1970's and the protection of the California Brown Pelicans under state and federal Endangered Species Acts, the population has rebounded. That good news causes Jane Goodall to carry with her a brown pelican feather, companion to a condor feather, each a symbol of what can and has been done to save a species.

But threats remain real. Algal blooms in 2002 resulted in months of domoic acid poisoning of pelicans and other seabirds with many deaths. Early this 2004 summer, there's been mass starvation of young pelicans with no reasons known why they have been unable to find sufficient fish. El Niño years result in starvation when the warmer surface waters drive the fish deeper than the pelicans can dive. But that's not the condition this year. So far, August, 2004 is an ENSO-neutral year, but the starvation is widespread in Southern California. IBRRC has initiated an innovative pelican adoption program where for $200 you can save a bird's life and receive an identifying certificate with a photo.

The SBWCN does not have a similar program but would gratefully receive donations for the care of its pelicans such as the young pair here, rehabilitated from near death emaciation to fly free. Click here, please, for how to contribute.

Almost unimaginable but sadly too real are vicious maimings that periodically erupt in Southern California. In 2003, IBRRC with assistance from other organizations posted a sizeable reward of $25,500 for information. The SBWCN also has a reward promise outstanding. Penalties for harm are severe: All seabirds are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act; California Brown Pelicans receive stringent protection under the Endangered Species Acts.

What can we do to help?

Never feed pelicans (or other seabirds) hanging around for a handout at fishing piers. Pelicans quickly lose their fear and begin to beg. The photogenic birds delight but sooner or later many of those friendly birds will get hooked — and, as a result, inevitably many will die painful deaths. Gently encourage locals and tourists to not feed the birds by pointing out it encourages the birds to hang around ... and get hooked.

Recommend the use of barbless hooks for fishing. Not only are they better for the fish but they are much easier to remove from the hooked seabird. The use is controversial (click here for some of the arguments) but California does require them for some fishing situations.

Always pick up any monofilament line and dispose of it where seabirds can not get entrapped. Watch out for any cruelty and report, depending where it's observed, to the Harbor Patrol or police or Fish and Wildlife Service. Publicity can encourage local authorities to act; pictures (digital, with identification dates and verification) can be very helpful in prosecutions.

In the Los Angeles area, call the Fish and Wildlife Service at 310-328-1516. Rick Farris is the Fish and Wildlife division chief for Ventura: 805-644-1766 x316. Local harbor patrols should be notified if you see anyone injuring pelicans or other seabirds within the city waterfront areas. For pelican rescue guidelines and tips, please visit the Resources page of this web site.

http://pelicanlife.org © Betsy Robertson Cramer, 2004, all rights reserved.
Contact: info@pelicanlife.org