Pelican illness puzzles scientists

Biologists continue to be puzzled by a rash of sick brown pelicans coming ashore along much of California's coastline.

Local wildlife rescue volunteers began collecting sick pelicans last week, although the numbers of ailing birds in San Luis Obispo County are lower than in other parts of the state, said Kathy Duncan, assistant director of the Pacific Wildlife Care animal hospital in Morro Bay.

Testing suggests that some of the sicknesses are due to domoic acid poisoning, which results from toxic algae blooms. Birds sick from domoic acid usually experience seizures, but rescuers are not seeing this kind of neurological damage. The pelicans come in sick but uninjured and often die right away. Mark Moline, a biology professor at Cal Poly, calls the illnesses "very bizarre."

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