The birds’ symptoms have included starvation and dehydration, upper respiratory congestion, hypothermia, disorientation and edemic swelling on their feet and pouches.
“The only commonality for all the birds is that they’re all starving, weak and dehydrated,” McGuire said. “We don’t know why they’re coming in.”
Local and area fishermen have told McGuire that the apparent starvation is not due to a lack of food; their nets have been full, and they’ve observed healthy pelicans diving and eating fish.
Experts have all but ruled out domoic acid poisoning, caused by algae blooms, which was responsible for a spate of ill pelicans last year.
“They’re not having seizures, or crashing into cars, or any of the typical symptoms like that,” McGuire said.
She said the center does not usually receive as many pelicans in December and January.
McGuire found some recent reports to be odd, including a pelican who tried to land on the ledge of a multi-story building, but fell down to its death shortly after.
Three brown pelicans were found recently in Tucson, but that happens sometimes when the birds are blown off course during a storm, McGuire said.
Her center soon will begin pulling blood samples from new intakes, so a lab can test the serum to fully rule out domoic acid poisoning.
“So far, in the local waters, testing has not indicated any elevated levels of domoic acid,” McGuire said. “So far.”
Experts are still collating data and discussing possibilities together, McGuire said, but additional testing will be difficult unless the state, county or a private donor make contributions to help pay for the tests.
“Without them, we may never get to the bottom of it,” McGuire said. “It may always be a mystery.”
Each pelican’s rehabilitation costs from $500 to $1,000; testing is another $300 or so per bird, McGuire said.
Those interested in helping shoulder the testing or rehabilitation costs are asked to call the center at (714) 374-5587. The center also accepts donations of old sheets or towels, or cases of Pedialyte.
CANDICE BAKER can be reached at (714) 966-4631 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.