It was a happy ending for many pelicans in Morro Bay on Wednesday, as the Pacific Wildlife Care Center was able to release eight newly healthy birds back into the wild at Coleman Park.
This was the second batch of birds that were healthy enough to rejoin the wild since a mysterious illness landed hundreds of them in the care of wildlife rehab centers.
Tabytha Sheeley, a wildlife rehab technician at Pacific Wildlife Care, told KSBY that many of the pelicans were responding really well to the care they were receiving.
"On intake, we do a thorough exam, they get medication for parasites that might be contributing, and then we give them food," Sheely explained.
The food did the trick, because after fattening them up, most birds were back to their old selves.
"They’ve basically eaten us out of our entire fish budget for the year, so we had a lot of outpouring from the community based on the story KSBY did," recalled Christine Johnson, Executive Director for Pacific Wildlife Care.
Those from the community that donated flocked to the coast to watch their contribution pay off in real-time.
"It's so emotional to watch these animals just get out on the water, get back out there, be back in their environment again, and then fly off. It's just so exciting," said Cheryl Hilzer, a donor.
But the question remains, how did hundreds of birds end up in the same emaciated condition up and down the California coastline? According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the most likely culprit was the wind. The long and sustained spring winds prevented the pelicans from fishing.
"They're like a big kite so they weren’t able to get the loft they needed to dive down to get the fish. They just weren’t able to actually hunt," said Johnson
Essentially, the birds were starving to death but after a little bit of rest, and a lot of fish, most of them responded quickly to treatment. Since being released, experts are confident they will successfully continue their migration to Baja Mexico.
The Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network says they still have 70 pelicans in their care. Most of them are responding well to treatment but they are not ready to release any back into the wild just yet.