Beachgoers In Peru Warned To Stay Away After Mass Pelican Die Offs
May 8, 2012

Beachgoers In Peru Warned To Stay Away After Mass Pelican Die Offs

Jason Farmer for

The health ministry of Peru issued a warning recently to citizens and tourists to avoid beaches in Lima and north of the capital while investigators try to determine what may have caused the mysterious deaths of hundreds of pelicans. Peruvian officials say more than 538 pelicans and other types of birds have been found dead along the northern coast.

The state-run news agency, TV Peru, puts the total number at an estimated 1,200 dead birds found along the northern shoreline that stretches from Punta Negra, in Piura, to San Jose, in the state of Lambayeque.

As reported in April, an estimated 900 dolphins washed up dead on the coast of northern Peru. Officials say they are uncertain at this time as to whether the deaths of the dolphins and the birds are somehow related.

While the investigation into the deaths of the dolphins is ongoing, a lack of food, interaction with fisheries, or poisoning from pesticides, heavy metals and biotoxins have been ruled out as potential causes. Investigators think the dolphins may have died from an outbreak of Morbillivirus or Brucella bacteria.

Morbillivirus is a class of viruses that are part of the same family as human measles; Brucella bacteria are the cause of many serious diseases in animals.

Investigators have not ruled out the possibility that the dolphins suffered some kind of acoustic trauma.

However, in the case of the bird deaths, preliminary investigations by the environmental ministry of Peru have eliminated seismic sound waves created by oil exploration as a possible cause.

According to the agricultural ministry, preliminary tests on some dead pelicans have also ruled out bird flu, but did suggest the birds were suffering from malnourishment.

"We're starting from the hypothesis that it's because the birds are young and unable to find enough food for themselves, and also because the sea temperature has risen and anchovies have moved elsewhere," Reuters quoted Deputy Agriculture Minister Juan Rheineck as saying.

In 1997, when the "El Nino" warming of the equatorial Pacific Ocean was occurring, another mass die off of pelicans happened along the northern coast of Peru. At that time, the warmer waters caused anchovies to migrate to cooler temperatures, resulting in a major disruption in the food chain of the marine life.

While another "El Nino" is not the cause in this case, warming sea-surface temperatures have been reported since the beginning of 2012. The CPC is reporting above-average sea-surface temperatures of 2 to 6 degrees above normal in the eastern Pacific Ocean, which borders Peru and northern South America.