Monday, January 08, 2007

Red tide paralyzing pelicans

COLLIER COUNTY: Officials with the Conservancy of Southwest Florida
say dozens of pelicans in Naples are being poisoned by red tide. The
organism has caused some of the birds to become so paralyzed, they
cannot stand up or even blink.

Joanna Fitzgerald, with the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, says
she and her colleagues are taking three to five pelicans to the
group's rehab center every day. Some are hurt from fishing hooks and
fishing line, but Fitzgerald says red tide poisoning is becoming a
serious problem.

Fitzgerald explained one of the pelicans she brought into the rehab
center two weeks ago was so weak, he could not stand and would not
eat. Though the bird's appetite has since returned, walking is still
a challenge.

She says the pelican is just one of the latest victims of red tide -
an algae bloom plaguing the Gulf of Mexico.

"They're very weak, they're disoriented, they're wobbly - it's
almost like they're drunk," said Fitzgerald.

Other pelicans are so weak, they can't even lift their head or their

"They're so paralyzed they can't even blink. So their eyes are stuck
open," said Fitzgerald.

The Sceviour family spotted one sick pelican, trapped him with a
garbage can, and called the Conservancy for help.

"He looked kind of slow or sick and was wandering along the street
which is unnatural," said part-time Naples resident William

Conservancy volunteer Kelsey Worcester says they rely on calls from
the community to find the sick pelicans and give them the treatment
they need.

"Pelicans are big birds. You can tell when they're not feeling well
because they don't struggle as much," said Worcester. "It's really
sad because you realize what these birds are going through."

Fitzgerald says a large number of the pelicans are coming in from
the Naples Pier. Not only is the pier area a haven for dangerous
fishing line, it's also been hit hard by red tide.

"Two Sundays ago, we had five come in from the pier and every one of
them died," said Fitzgerald.

Those pelicans were sent to a state lab to be tested for red tide.

Of the pelicans Conservancy officials treat, about 80-percent
survive - but only with weeks of fluids, food, and a lot of care.

Once they're released back into the wild, there is no guarantee they
won't be poisoned by red tide all over again.

If you see a sick pelican, Fitzgerald says the best thing to do is
to trap it with a bin or a garbage can and bring it to the
Conservancy's rehab center.

Because there are so many sick pelicans, there is not enough staff
to go around and pick them up.

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