‘Horrible abuse’: Help sought finding assailant after deaths of 22 mutilated pelicans in O.C.

Local news

The public’s help was being sought Wednesday to track down whoever is responsible for maiming nearly three dozen brown pelicans in Orange County in recent months, resulting in the deaths of 22 of the birds.

Since last October, at least 32 pelicans were found injured along coastal areas between San Clemente and south Huntington Beach. They were taken to the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center, a licensed veterinary hospital that caters specifically to wildlife.

Of the rescued birds, 22 had severe compound fractures to the humerus bone, which is where the wing is located. None of them survived, according to Debbie McGuire, the organization’s executive director.

“A compound fracture is an open fracture where the bone is completely broken in half and the pieces are sticking through the skin,” McGuire explained at a morning news conference. “It’s a pretty horrific injury.” 

The other 10 pelicans suffered different types of fractures, she said.

McGuire added that she couldn’t recall seeing broken wing injuries on this large a scale since 2008, when about a dozen pelicans were found at Bolsa Chica beach with broken wings. They came into the care center with compound fractures and only one survived.

Tips eventually led to an arrest and conviction, she said.

The alarming spike in cases involving the unusual and traumatic injuries to the humerus bone has led to concerns that the mutilations were a deliberate act.

“These are usually really rare injuries to see in the birds that we get at the center, and lately we’ve seen quite an increase,” said Dr. Elizabeth Wood, a veterinarian. “That is what’s making us suspicious that something is happening that may be intentional, that someone is harming these birds intentionally.” 

She noted that the humerus bone in pelicans is generally very strong and is used to taking and withstanding impact and withstanding due to the birds living in a marine environment and diving from great heights. Typically, the centers deal with just a couple of cases each year. 

“It would take a really significant impact to consistently break them in these numbers,” Wood said.

Such injuries are typically fatal, but there is a chance of intervention when the wounds are fresh, according to the veterinarian. However, those cases still require emergency surgery, as well as months of rehabilitation, physical therapy and ongoing care, which can become expensive.

The surgical procedure alone is estimated to cost around $5,000, but long-term care leading to a successful release can range between $50,000 and $100,000.

As the California Department of Fish and Wildlife investigates, the center is asking for the public’s help to track down whoever is committing what they describe as “horrible abuse” against the pelicans.

“These cases are so upsetting for us,” Wood said. “It’s really difficult to try to imagine who is doing something like this and what the intentions might be.”

Anyone with information is urged to contact their local authorities or call CalTip at 888-334-2258.

Those who want to help the nonprofit with treatment costs can donate to the organization here.

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