Mother Nature, not man, blamed in pelican maulings

AP News
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Posted: Aug 31, 2011 9:17 PM
Mother Nature, not man, blamed in pelican maulings

Game wardens say nature _ not man _ is to blame for nearly a dozen brown pelicans that have surfaced along California's Central Coast with huge puncture wounds in their chest.

Sea lions and pelicans have been competing for baitfish, which are coming in unusually close to shore this year prompting feeding frenzies in the Port San Luis Harbor and Avila Beach areas, said State Fish and Game spokesman Andrew Hughan on Wednesday. Tests showed that the unsettling wounds found in some injured pelicans were actually caused by sea lions.

"It's nature doing its thing," he said. "We're relieved that it's nature and not a malicious poacher or some kids out there."

Known for their dog-like bark and tendency to laze about marinas, California sea lions are voracious eaters, periodically raising the ire of fishermen for stealing their catch. Both sea lions and pelicans rely on fish for a large part of their diet.

Four of seven wounded birds that were captured in recent days had to be euthanized because of severe injuries. Four other pelicans with gaping wounds couldn't be caught.

A veterinarian treating some of the birds said their injuries appeared to have been caused by a knife or other sharp object. Officials earlier surmised the pelicans could be injuring themselves on rocks as they dive for baitfish, but would not rule out foul play.

A kayaker, however, saw a sea lion attacking and dragging a pelican underwater and necropsy results confirmed sea lions were indeed biting the birds.

While unusual, such attacks are not unprecedented. Officials say there have been similar incidents in the northern part of the state.

Todd Tognazzini, DFG Law Enforcement, said it's not clear if the injuries were caused by one rogue animal or several.

"What is the reason behind this?" he said. "One of the most intriguing things about working in the animal world is we don't always know the answer. We just know it's happening."