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Sea lion bites caused mysterious pelican wounds, biologists find

August 31, 2011 |  8:20 pm

Brown pelican

Underwater attacks by biting sea lions are responsible for injuring or killing nearly a dozen brown pelicans off the Central Coast of California since last week, state wildlife officials said Wednesday.

Until now it had been a mystery what was causing the seabirds to appear along the coast near San Luis Obispo with gaping puncture wounds to the chest.

California Department of Fish and Game biologists took several of the dead pelicans to a laboratory in Santa Cruz to undergo necropsies. The examinations showed their wounds were caused by sea lion teeth.

Officials think the sea lions have been attacking pelicans -- which compete for food -- if the birds get in the mammals' way as they seek bait fish close to shore. Game wardens at one point interviewed a kayaker who said he witnessed a sea lion grab a pelican, drag it underwater and release it with a bite wound.

"It's sheer chaos" when a group of birds and underwater animals feed on bait, said Fish and Game patrol Lt. Todd Tognazzini. "It becomes a frenzy."

Though certainly rare, it's not the first time such attacks by sea lions have been reported, Tognazzini said.

Of the 11 injured pelicans documented by wildlife officials, he said, three were so severely wounded they had to be euthanized. At least four others were being rehabilitated.


High tides flood streets near Balboa Pier      

High-surf warning issued for local beaches      

Shark sighting closes stretch of beach in La Jolla

-- Tony Barboza

Photo: A brown pelican.

Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times