LOS ANGELES - California Fish and Wildlife are investigating how several dead birds have washed up along the shores of Southern California.
With white feather accents and blue eyes to match the underside of his beak, this beautiful cormorant should be diving for fish...but instead he is slowly dying on the beach.
"It’s sad watching the birds get sick and it’s concerning too for the health of the people who want to come and enjoy the beach," said Hailey Miller who was visiting the beach.
Bird experts say these seabirds are suffering from a parasite affecting the population from Santa Barbara down to Orange County.
The parasite is known as Sarcocystis calchasi, but International Bird Rescue Veterinarian and Research Director Dr. Rebecca Duerr believes it’s a different parasite killing the cormorants in the OC... Sarcocystis falcatula.
Doctors are not sure if the disease stems from fish or another source…but they know it causes inflammation in the birds’ brain.
"The birds have protozoal encephalitis which makes them have seizures and tremors and generally have a problem with their brain," said Dr. Rebecca Duerr said.
Dr. Duerr said 150 washed ashore in Venice alone just from the beginning of the year to a couple weeks ago…and it’s only getting worse.
19-year-old Elijah Osteen jumped in the ocean to save a cormorant drowning in Playa Del Rey last Friday…one of several that lifeguards picked up here that day.
"I put myself in the bird’s perspective. If I were drowning, I would want someone to save me. I wouldn’t want to sit there and get tossed around by the waves. It looked pretty helpless," Osteen said.
The problem is treatments largely are not working. Vets are trying more treatments, and hope they can find one that works before the parasite disrupts the population.
"It’s sad when a baby bird dies but there’s a high mortality in young birds. When you see an adult that is about to contribute to the population being sick and not going to make it, that’s tragic," said CEO of International Bird Rescue JD Burgeron.
Bird experts say people at the beach who see a sick bird can call local animal control or carefully take the bird to the International Bird Rescue in San Pedro.
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