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Public Asked To Help Stop Attacks On Pelicans In Newport Beach

Patch logo Patch 6/17/2021 Paige Austin
a pelican standing next to a body of water: Someone has been attacking pelicans along the Orange County coastline. © Shutterstock / Dogora Sun Someone has been attacking pelicans along the Orange County coastline.

HUNTINGTON BEACH, CA —Wildlife officials are asking for help finding the person who has been attacking dozens of pelicans along Orange County's coastline over the last eight months.

More than 30 brown pelicans have been found in Dana Point, San Clemente, Laguna Beach, Newport Beach and Huntington Beach with fractured wings, according to officials with the Wetlands & Wildlife Care Center in Huntington Beach. The trail of animal cruelty extends the county's entire coastline.

The injuries appear to be human-caused, but how and why a person would catch and injure the birds is baffling investigators.

"It's a very large puzzle to put together," said Capt. Patrick Foy of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife law enforcement division.

Foy said the Huntington Beach wildlife care center and the International Bird Rescue organization have both concluded that the injuries are consistent with being human-caused. However, Foy said he is still not certain that the birds are the victims of human attackers, noting the difficulty of capturing a pelican just to harm them.

"That's something that has us scratching our heads," Foy said. "I am a trainer in wildlife capture and restraining, basically catching wild animals -- and I've been a trainer for more than 20 years. You'd have to have specialized equipment, some know-how and it's not easy. That would be a very significant, important part of our investigation. How would someone catch these birds? After we can figure that part out, why would they be injuring them and then releasing them into the wild in an injured state."

But he said "it's too hard to speculate" on how the birds would have suffered such injuries beyond human actions.

The wing fractures are often severe, said Debbie McGuire, executive director of the Wetlands & Wildlife Care Center in Huntington Beach.

McGuire said pelicans can be caught using fish bait, noting that she took part in pelican-rescue operations following a major oil spill in Santa Barbara.

"Pelicans like to hang out near people," she said. "They're not that afraid of people. They're hungry and will go after easy food. They're kind of like a big old dog who likes food."

She said pelicans sometimes get injured on fish hooks, but those are typically small sores and not like the "compound fractures" the rescue and care organizations have seen.

With the public's help, the perpetrator can be stopped and punished.

"We need the eyes and ears of the public to help us," McGuire said.

McGuire said 32 injured pelicans have been brought in, and 22 of them had compound fractures.

The injures are hard to stomach. In some cases, "the bone is completely broken in half and protrudes through the skin," McGuire said, adding that the injuries leave the pelicans vulnerable to infection.

The injured animals have been turning up since October, but wildlife officials have noticed an uptick since March, said McGuire.

The expense of caring for the wounded birds is a burden. Treating the pelicans can cost at least $5,000 apiece, so the Wetlands & Wildlife Care Center is also seeking donations. To donate money go to https://snwbl.it/hjy16v.

Anyone with information was asked to call the state Department of Fish and Wildlife toll-free tip line at 888-334-2258. The public may also text "CALTIP" followed by a space and the message to 8474111 (tip411).

Authorities don't know if the latest attacks are connected to another string of attacks targeting the birds last year in Los Angeles County.

According to the International Bird Rescue organization, at least four California Brown Pelicans had their pouches and necks slashed by the end of last year, and the group offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of any attackers. The Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center has offered a $500 reward.

City News Service

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