Decades after the damage from DDT almost destroyed the Southern California brown pelican population, something is causing the coastal birds to get sick and turn up distressed in unusual places: farm fields, backyards, on a runway at LAX. Two dead pelicans were even found on the 110 Freeway, Louis Sahagun reports for the L.A. Times. The ill share symptoms including disorientation, extreme fatigue and bruises inside their pouches.
"We're a little freaked out by this," said Rebecca Dmytryk, spokeswoman for the nonprofit WildRescue. "We've never seen anything like it."
Bird rescuers were rushing pelican blood samples and carcasses to state wildlife authorities and laboratories that specialize in detecting potentially fatal algae toxins, such as domoic acid, that have plagued the species in past years. But domoic acid typically sickens marine animals in spring and summer, not in January.
"We just became aware of this problem a few days ago," said David Caron, a professor at USC who was analyzing pelican blood samples sent to him from throughout the state. "By the end of the week, we'll have information that should tell us whether or not these animals test positive for phytoplankton toxins."
Pelicans became almost rare along the coast when DDT was in heavy use, but the pesticide's ban in 1972 allowed the population to revive. Last February the feds proposed removing brown pelicans from the national endangered species list.