State Fish and Game wardens are trying to determine what caused more than 15 brown pelicans to suffer large puncture wounds to the chest.
Fifteen pelicans have died in recent days as a result of their chest wounds. Three were brought into the Pacific Wildlife Care center in Morro Bay on Thursday.
Two of the birds had to be euthanized because their injuries were so bad, and a third is being treated. Jeanette Stone, center director, said the wounds are more serious than the typical injuries pelicans receive from fishing hook and line entanglements.
“These are wounds that are huge, gaping and ripped open at the chest,” she said.
A veterinarian examined the dead pelicans and found one to have wounds consistent with being caused by a knife or other sharp object. Wardens are continuing their investigation.
“We can’t rule out foul play,” Warden Sean Kenady said.
All of the injured pelicans came from Port San Luis and Avila Beach where large schools of baitfish have been seen in very shallow water recently.
Another possible explanation is that the pelicans are injuring themselves on rocks and other submerged objects as they dive for the baitfish, said Lt. Warden Todd Tognazzini.
Pelicans, particularly juveniles, are frequently injured during the late summer months. They are drawn to the area by the profusion of baitfish. Juvenile birds, which are not yet proficient foragers, are tempted to try to take a fish flopping on the surface of the water at the end of a fisherman’s line.
“They are pretty desperate animals right now,” Stone said.
Shelby Bohl, director of the San Luis Obispo County-based Pier Watch, a group that works to reduce seabird mortality by fishing line entanglement, said some localities, such as Santa Cruz, limit pier fishing during seabird feeding frenzies in order to avoid these kinds of injuries.
Anyone with information about the injured pelicans is asked to call the DFG tip line at (888) 334-2258.