Pelicans Are Falling Out of the Sky (and Other Mysterious Mass Animal Deaths)


This is a healthy pelican – quite beautiful. Unfortunately, very sick pelicans are falling out of the sky these days. It’s one of many recent alarming indicators from our fellow creatures that things are seriously wrong.

Hundreds of sick pelicans have fallen to the ground from Mexico to Oregon, smashing into cars, boats and beaches, and experts are baffled. Authorities have ruled out domoic acid poisoning, which has affected wildlife before. It’s nothing short of a mystery. Surviving pelicans have been found in yards and on roads, disoriented and weak. So far, experts think the cause could be anything from unknown poison contamination to exposure to the toxic run-off from the recent Southern California fires to malnutrition due to evaporating fish stocks.

Though the exact cause is a mystery, it’s almost certainly due to human impact. And, it’s only the most recent case in a slew of disturbing mass animal deaths around the world.

In the last two years, California’s crops were affected by a mysterious disappearance of bee hives. Known as Colony Collapse Disorder, the worker bees simply fly away and never return. Since October 2006, over 35% of the honey bee population in the United States has vanished. In some states, as many as 90% of bees have disappeared. Scientists don’t know what causes CCD, but theories range from stress due to travel (bees are trucked across thousands of miles, in some cases, to pollinate), or pesticide exposure. A case for local, organic food?

Dolphins off the beaches of Cornwall, thought to be stressed by Royal Navy operations, apparently committed a mass suicide last summer. 26 dolphins consumed and inhaled debris and mud. Though dolphins have been found dead en masse before, this is the most baffling incident. The only other possibility, experts say, is that the dolphins may have been scared by a whale. Scared enough to willingly fill their lungs and bellies with mud?

Cases of seals and sea birds washing ashore have been common in recent years. For example, over 1000 Shearwater sea birds were found dead in the Bahamas and parts of Florida in 2007. The cause wasn’t bird flu, as experts had suspected when shearwaters turned up dead in 2005. There is still no explanation, but every year sees an increase in sea bird deaths, with toxicity the most common culprit.

Also last year, at least 40 endangered gharials in the Chambal river in India died of cirrhosis of the liver, due to apparent poisoning (a flood in 2007 is thought to have increased metal levels in the river). What was particularly odd about the incident was that only wild gharials, of breeding age, died – the captive bred animals were fine.

And here’s a case for organic textiles in addition to food: in 2006, a controversy erupted over the plight of sheep and goats who became ill and died after eating genetically modified cotton. People working with the animals said they simply became “dull and lifeless and died”. They were found dead with swollen stomachs, mouth lesions and black stools. Bacterial and viral infections were ruled out; and no sheep grazing on non-modified cotton died. In 2007 the same thing happened, also in India, to cattle.

Hundreds, and possibly thousands, of sea turtles were found floating dead or washed ashore in El Salvador in 2006. At first thought to be caused by fishing activities, experts quickly ruled this out and the case remains a mystery.

Image: sir mervs