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The Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network is investigating a series of attacks against wild pelicans that have taken place over the past month.
The organization’s rehabilitative specialists examined six deliberately injured birds — euthanizing five and declaring another dead — and determined a human likely committed the attacks. Local animal care officials are issuing pelican awareness campaigns in response to the incidents.
According to SBWCN Animal Care Technician Tracie Gephart, the animals suffered from multiple severe injuries.
“There were five birds that we found alive, and there was one that we found washed up in Oxnard — that was the bird that had two broken wings, a broken beak and the little pouch that it catches fish in — that was ripped off,” Gephart said.
The animal treatment facility lacks the resources to treat the bird’s injuries, according to Gephart.
“That kind of [wing] break would have needed orthopedic surgery, as well as high doses of antibiotics and … critical care,” Gephart said. “Nobody here in Santa Barbara is qualified to do that. So, to make it easier on the animal we have to, unfortunately, euthanize them.”
Gephart said investigators suspect local fishermen and lobster trappers could have committed the attacks out of frustration at pelicans eating the fish in their nets and cages.
“We feel that it might be [fishermen]. It has happened before unfortunately, and it looked exactly the same,” Gephart said. “The last time this happened it was about four years ago and it was a fisherman who happened to be in this area fishing, and was not really aware that we had laws or animal rights. He was doing what he felt was necessary to make sure that he got his catch.”
Gephart said the type of wounds eliminated the possibility of an animal as the culprit.
“With the examinations I did, there were no bite marks; there was no struggle,” Gillen said. “They are all very clean breaks, and it is definitely a break that would take a lot of force to do.”
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent Ed Newcomer said the organization relies on information from the community to solve these types of cases.
“What people often forget is that wildlife cannot call 911,” Newcomer said. “So we really rely on people to tell us what is going on and what they observe — if they observe suspicious activity or if they see an injured pelican — to report that sort of thing.”
Newcomer said it is difficult to determine the location of the attacks as pelicans are capable of swimming with injured wings.
The pelican is protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and offenders can face fines up to starting at $15,000 per incident or six months in prison.
Eileen Gillen, director of emergency services at CARE Animal Hospital in downtown Santa Barbara, said residents should contact authorities with any information regarding the incidents.
“The community is aware that if they are along the beaches or the harbor, [they should] keep a lookout for potential abuse that may be going on,” Gillen said.
The Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network is offering a $1,500 reward for anyone with information regarding the incidents.
Call the SBWCN Rescue Hotline at (805) 681-1080 to report an incident of animal abuse.