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Bird Deaths Follow Mass Dolphin Fatalities in Peru May 11, 2012
Dead pelicans on Peru coast
“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.” — Deputy Agriculture Minister Juan Rheineck.
The mysterious deaths of thousands of dolphins and now seabirds over the past few weeks has prompted Peruvian officials to declare a health alert and urge people to avoid a long stretch of affected coastline.

At least 5,000 pelicans and other ocean birds washed up on the country’s northern coast just weeks after more than 900 dolphins died in the same area.

In total, nearly 3,000 of the marine mammals have perished so far this year, which some scientists say was mainly due to seismic testing for oil offshore.

The government and one of the exploration companies operating offshore say the dolphins succumbed to a virus.

Initial tests suggest the dead birds were malnourished, leading officials to say the two die-offs are entirely unrelated.

They point to a mass pelican death along the same stretch of coast in 1997 that was due to a shortage of anchovies, which were driven off by the El Niño ocean-warming phenomenon.

The Health Ministry said sea surface temperatures have risen and the usual schools of anchovies “have moved elsewhere.”

But long-term residents say they have never seen anything like the current spate of wildlife fatalities. Some say they fear offshore oil exploration could be disturbing marine life, or pesticides and other chemicals used onshore could be making their way into the water and up the food chain.

Peru’s coast is nourished by the the cold Humboldt Current, making it one of the richest fisheries on Earth. The famed anchovies there are sometimes forced to swim deeper due to the El Niño warming, making them too deep for pelicans to reach.

Photo: Ministry of Health (Peru)