Despite some contrary reports, local wildlife officials believe sea lions and the chaos of feeding frenzies are responsible for at least three dead pelicans.
On Aug. 24, officials from the local branch of the California Department of Fish and Game began receiving reports from the Harford Pier in Avila Beach that pelicans were turning up with large wounds on their chests. Oddly, the wounds were on the same place for each bird. Coupled with a few scattered reports that humans were abusing pelicans, the initial suspicion was that people had been slashing at the pelicans with knives or other sharp objects.
Despite some reports that as many as 15 birds died, only seven birds were captured by Pacific Wildlife Care and brought in for treatment at the organization’s Morro Bay facility. Organization volunteers had to euthanize three of the birds due to the extent of their injuries.
Another three or four birds were reported injured, but couldn’t be caught, and might still be in the area.
Port San Luis Harbor District Manager Steve McGrath told New Times San Luis Bay has been frothing with “bait fish” recently, drawing in all manner of predators, including pelicans that dive from above and sea lions that strike the fish from beneath.
Fish and Game officials sent the dead pelicans to Santa Cruz for examination. To their surprise, they were told the wounds were consistent with sea lion bites.
“It’s just that sea lions don’t normally prey upon any kind of bird life,” said Fish and Game Warden Todd Tognazzini.
Though officials aren’t entirely ruling out foul play, they believe sea lions are biting the birds either by accident or as an act of aggression in feeding frenzies.
“When animals get in a feeding frenzy on a bait ball, it is a neat thing to watch, but it is also chaos,” Tognazzini said.
Fish and Game, the Harbor District, and Port San Luis Harbor Patrol received reports of fishermen “slashing” at birds, but were unable to substantiate the claims.
Officials confirmed two birds were hit and killed by a car on Aug. 20, but the incident was determined to be an accident.
On Aug. 30, International Bird Rescue reported admitting more than 221 brown pelicans from the Monterey area since June 1, all of which had life-threatening injuries caused by fishing line and tackle.