State wildlife officials report more than 100 brown pelicans have died in Brevard County from Merritt Island to Melbourne in the past two months and it's not clear why.
“The pelicans are emaciated and have heavy parasite counts, and, to our knowledge, other bird species have not been affected,” said FWC researcher Dan Wolf.
Many of the dead pelicans have turned up in Cocoa Beach but others have also been found in Merritt Island, Melbourne, Indian Harbour Beach and the Sebastian River, Local 6 news partner Florida Today reports.
Dead cormorants also have been reported recently in Brevard. FWC researchers are assessing specimens from the pelican carcasses and the environment to identify a potential cause.
Researchers are awaiting results from additional samples sent this week that may determine whether the pelicans died of botulism, which sometimes causes large bird die-offs.
But botulism generally kills birds quickly, Wolf said, leaving little time for the pelicans to become emaciated. Birds get botulism when they eat rotted fish, which concentrate the type E toxin produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. Human botulism cases from type E toxin are very rare. Type A or Type B botulinum toxin makes humans sick, usually after they eat spoiled food.
The hospital has seen at least 15 sick pelicans at the hospital in the past few weeks. All but two died.
Around the same time last year, more than a dozen brown pelicans perished in Palm Shores, Rockledge and Indian Harbour Beach within about a month. Tests by FWC found a common bacteria at fault. The bacteria was most likely from eating decomposed fish.
FWC recommends not touching the pelicans but wants people to report any sick or dead birds at MyFWC.com/Bird or by calling the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922.