Peru Now Investigating Mass Pelican Die-Off
April 30, 2012

Peru Now Investigating Mass Pelican Die-Off

After recent news of massive dolphin deaths, authorities are now investigating why more than 500 pelicans and other birds have been found dead on the northern coast. A clear connection between the two occurrences has yet to be determined, however.

According to BBC News, the Peruvian government has said it is “deeply worried” about these deaths, noting many of these birds appear to have died over the past few days.

In addition to finding other seabirds, known as “boobies,” officials also said they found several dead sea lions and one dead turtle.

Early reports suggest these birds aren´t dying at sea, but rather on the shores where they have been found. Further tests still need to be conducted to find out the cause of these deaths.

According to the Peruvian Maritime Institute (IMARPE), officials have found 538 dead pelicans and 54 dead boobies on Peru´s shores. While each of these carcasses appear to be in different stages of decomposition, it is estimated most of these animals had only recently passed away. Local fisherman estimate the birds began to die-off about 2 weeks ago.

The estimated number of dead birds varies from location to location.

Local media reports say more than 1200 dead pelicans have been found in the Piura and Lambayeque regions of Peru.

The Peruvian Sea Institute surveyed nearly 43 miles of coastline on Sunday and estimated nearly 600 dead birds were found there.

Dolphins have also been found dead and washed up on Peru´s shores, a fact which troubles marine experts.

Gabriel Quijandria, Deputy Environment Minister of Peru estimates the deaths are a result of a virus. According to an interview with the Associated Press last week,  Quijandria said, “There are scientific articles about the incidence of morbillivirus, a type of distemper, in cetaceans in Peru, and that can be ruled out or proven next week.”

Similar marine wildlife deaths in Peru, Mexico, and the US have been caused by a viral epidemic outbreak.

The Peruvian Government has put together an investigative group from different ministries to study a report from the Peruvian Sea Institute.

So far, the investigation has concluded the deaths did not occur due to lack of food, interaction with fisheries, pesticide poisoning, biotoxin poisoning or heavy metal contamination.

In a report by CNN, Sue Rocca, a marine biologist with the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society said, “When you have something this large, my gut would tell me that there´s something traumatic that happened.”

Rocca points to evidence of death by acoustic trauma in the dolphins, saying the off-shore drilling industry in Peru may be to blame.

While the Peruvian Government investigates these deaths, Quijandria said last week he hopes the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will lend a hand in helping to determine what has caused such catastrophic deaths.

As far as the deaths of the pelicans, Coast Guard Officer Cesar Villanueva in Lambayeque told the Huffington Post on Sunday he has never seen so many pelican deaths on the beach in his 25 years on the job.