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Large number of sick pelicans showing up along the coast

Posted at 6:40 PM, May 17, 2022

Sick pelicans in need of medical attention have been showing up all over the Central Coast, and wildlife rescuers don't know why. Both Santa Barbara Wildlife Network and Pacific Wildlife Care in Morro Bay are experiencing this phenomenon.

On the South Coast, they have rescued a total of 50 pelicans in just the past few days, while in Morro Bay, the number is a lot smaller — 11 birds as of Tuesday

The pelicans started to show up over the weekend and since then, calls reporting sightings of sick pelicans have only continued to grow.

Dana Sherlock is a hotline volunteer for Santa Barbara Wildlife Network who was working when some of the first calls started to come in. She described it as "overwhelming."

"One after another, every time I would write down a call and had time to check the voicemail, there were 16 more calls," Sherlock recalled.

This unusual influx comes at the organization's busiest time of the year. Spring is baby season.

They get calls about abandoned newborns all the time but the pelican issue has far outshined other orphaned animals.

Rescuers say there doesn’t seem to be any type of pattern as far as where the pelicans end up but the way callers describe them is almost always the same.

"They’re saying, 'There’s a pelican just sitting here zoned out, I am walking right up to it and it's not doing anything, it's not moving away, I don’t think it can fly. It looks sick, it looks disoriented,'" Sherlock explained.

The Executive Director of Pacific Wildlife Care, Christine Johnson, described them as sluggish and unable to move when humans get close to them.

"They’re very lethargic, they can be approached but we're asking people please do not approach them," Johnson said.

Wildlife groups are asking that if anyone comes across this same scenario to call the hotline immediately. Because of the overwhelming number of birds in need, they’re also asking for help.

Ariana Katovich, the Executive Director for Santa Barbara Wildlife Network, is asking the public for any and all donations. She said the organization heavily relies on the community's help.

"We are in desperate need of large soft-sided carriers and crates, sheets, financial donations and we're also willing to train folks on volunteering here at the center," she explained.

Santa Barbra Wildlife Network says, while this is highly unusual, something similar happened in 2012 but there has never been an official cause for that incident either. Just like that time, once they’ve regained their strength, they will be released back into the wild.

To report any sick pelicans or any other wildlife emergencies call the Santa Barbara Wildlife Network hotline at (805) 681-1080.

In San Luis Obispo County, call Pacific Wildlife Care at (805) 543-9453.