Hundreds of dolphins and thousands of pelicans have been found dead on the beaches of the Peruvian coastline. While it is not entirely rare for such a dynamic coastline to experience its fair share of animal sightings and deaths, the sheer number involved in this case (as well as the fact that a couple of different species are involved) has left scientists and government officials scratching their heads.
Already the bodies of more than 4,450 pelicans and almost 900 dolphins have littered the country’s beaches, raising health concerns and forcing the Peruvian Ministry of Health to close many of the beaches that occupy the 1,500-mile coastline, from its capital city of Lima and northward. In the past, similar cases of mass pelican deaths have been recorded—most notably in 1982-1983 and 1997-1998 when El Nino was deemed largely to blame for warmer ocean temperatures. And scientists believe that this year is no different.
Carlos Bocanegra, a biologist at the National University of Trujillo, believes that a warming ocean is responsible this time around—temperatures in the region have averaged 10 degrees Fahrenheit (6 degrees Celsius) warmer than the same time last year. According to Bocanegra, as the water warms, populations of anchovies (the pelicans preferred meal) move to deeper water, making it harder for younger pelicans to dive down and feed. Of the 10 dying pelicans Bocanegra examined, the digestive tracks were found to be either empty or contained the remains of fish that are not a usual part of their diets.
Further evidence that this is the case has come from fisherman in the northern region of Lambayeque, who claimed that since the end of January daily catches of anchovetas drew in noticeably less and less than the average five tons a day.