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Pelicans are turning up malnourished along the Central Coast. Here’s what we know

Flickr member Britta Heise
Pacific Wildlife care had taken in 36 malnourished pelicans in need of care between May 15 and May 20.

Pacific Wildlife Care (PWC) in Morro Bay is asking people to call their hotline if they find a malnourished pelican in San Luis Obispo County.

They’re turning up in mysteriously high numbers right now along the Central and Southern California coasts.

As of Friday morning, Pacific Wildlife Care had taken in 36 pelicans in need of care since May 15.

“We are finding that pelicans are showing up malnourished, in very dazed states, which is a result from them not having enough to eat,” said Pacific Wildlife Care Executive Director Christine Johnson.

She said this is the highest number of malnourished pelicans they’ve seen since 2012 and it’s even worse in other areas along the coast.

“Our numbers here are much lower than what we’re seeing even just in Santa Barbara and Ventura County,” Johnson said.

Pacific Wildlife Care staff at work
Thomas Wilmer
Workers at Pacific Wildlife Care in Morro Bay.

Most of the pelicans are being found between Los Osos and San Simeon, although Johnson said some have even been found along Los Osos Valley Road near San Luis Obispo.

Johnson said the reason the pelicans aren’t eating enough is still unclear.

“It’s hard to know if the pelicans are just missing the fish that are available because they’re just unable for another reason to really be able to hunt and feed themselves," Johnson said. "These animals are perfectly capable to care for themselves at this age. So it’s a little bit of an unknown.”

Johnson said the reasons for the malnourishment may become more clear over the next couple of months when more data from other wildlife rehabilitation centers becomes available across the state.

She said right now, wildlife rehabilitators are just trying to get the birds cared for.

“Until we know really what’s causing it, it is in our best interest to try and heal them and get them back out,” Johnson said.

She said a pelican is in need of care if it is exhausted enough that it isn’t moving. Pacific Wildlife Care advises against approaching wildlife and instead asks people to call their hotline for help at (805) 543-9453.

Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network also said their pelican numbers are not slowing down and they are in need of additional volunteers and donations.

The group took in more than 140 birds between May 14 and May 19. That’s 30 more pelicans than they cared for in all of 2021.

If you find a malnourished pelican in Santa Barbara County, you can call (805) 681-1080.

Rachel Showalter first joined KCBX as an intern from Cal Poly in 2017. During her time in college, she anchored and reported for Mustang News at Cal Poly's radio station, KCPR. After graduating, she took her first job as a Producer at KSBY-TV. She returned to the KCBX team in October 2020, reporting daily for KCBX News until she moved to the Pacific Northwest in July of 2022. Rachel spends her off-days climbing rocks, cooking artichokes and fighting crosswords with friends.
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