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SPCA Monterey County is rescuing dozens of pelicans in "critical condition"

SPCA Monterey County is nursing dozens of emaciated pelicans back to health.
SPCA Monterey County
SPCA Monterey County is nursing dozens of emaciated pelicans back to health.

If you have encountered a sick pelican, reach out to the following:

The Monterey County SPCA has rescued dozens of pelicans since April. The birds are starving and unable to fly. Beth Brookhouser is the vice president of marketing and communications with SPCA Monterey County.

BROOKHOUSER: So far, SPCA Monterey County Wildlife Center has rescued 71 pelicans since the end of April. And actually, our rescue team is out at the wharf right now rescuing another nine. We are seeing these pelicans come into us emaciated, disoriented, unable to fly and desperately in need of our care.

What is the prevailing theory on why they're so emaciated?

BROOKHOUSER: We don't know for sure yet. But it seems it's likely a food source problem. They're having difficulty locating their usual food source for an unknown reason at this point. And, they're becoming starving. And at that point they get disoriented and can no longer fly.

We saw this a few years ago in Monterey Bay. Luckily, it's been a few years since then. It's always terrible when we see something like this. It's it's so hard to see so many, birds in need of help. But thankfully, we are here for them, and we will continue to rescue them as as long as they need us.

Do you know what would cause such a dramatic food shortage that so many birds are getting sick?

BROOKHOUSER: I can't really speculate on that now. We just don't know. It's way too early to tell.

How much do these pelicans eat? How much are you feeding them? And, what kind of fish are you feeding them?

We're feeding them sardines and smelt. When they first come into us, we actually have to — this is a little disgusting — but we have to make it in a blender into a slurry for them so they can start slowly eating that.

Once they get healthier, they can eat whole fish just like they would in the wild. But they eat with the pelicans we have in care right now. We're going through between 25 and 50 pounds of fish every single day. It is a lot of fish. So we really thank our donors for their support and making it possible for us to continue these rescues.

In fact, we were rescuing, from Fisherman's Wharf earlier today, near a fishing boat that was unloading. And they saw we were doing and they offered us buckets of smelts, which was so wonderful and such a such an amazing and compassionate gift.

What else are you doing to help these pelicans get back to top health? And, how successful has it been?

BROOHOUSER: When they arrive to us, they are in critical condition and sadly, we are not able to save them all. But the ones that we can save, we're providing fluids. We are doing blood work to see if there's any other underlying issue. And then we're starting the slow re-feeding process.

The ones who are really, really critical, their blood temp, their temperature is low. So we're keeping them indoors in a heated room to warm their bodies back up. And then once they start on the road to recovery, we have outdoor aviaries that we're putting them in to start moving around and start fishing on their own and and getting back to normal pelican activities.

Have you released any back into the wild?

BROOKHOUSER: We personally have not. Once they are stable, we're actually sending them to our partners at International Bird Rescue up in Northern California. They do the longer term rehabilitation to make sure they're flying strength is back, and then they'll release them somewhere where it seems that food source is not an issue.

So if somebody sees a pelican they think is sick, how should they get in touch? What should they do?

BROOKHOUSER: So you can really easily tell that something's wrong with these pelicans. Right now, they're landing in weird places like the middle of Carmel Valley Road or a person's backyard. Places where they aren't normally. The ones that are in regular places, like Fisherman's Wharf is a place where you commonly see pelicans, you'll notice it pretty quickly because they are not moving when people walk towards them or when vehicles move towards them.

They're acting depressed and disoriented and just staying still. So we ask that you please stay with them and give us a call. If you are there with eyes on them, we can respond immediately and go out and capture them safely and bring them back to our wildlife center for care.

If you find a pelican or other wildlife that needs help, call the SPCA at 831-264-5427, or visit

Jerimiah Oetting is KAZU’s news director. Prior to his career in public media, he was a field biologist with the U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service.