A juvenile California brown pelican is alive today thanks to the quick thinking and ingenuity of Bay Area wildlife workers.
Staff members with the Peninsula Humane Society saved the dying pelican's life by performing a CPR-like procedure at the agency's Wildlife Care Center in Burlingame, according to an agency news release Wednesday.
A passerby at a Pacifica beach found the 1-year-old pelican lethargic, emaciated and covered in lice and called the humane society for help. Wildlife staff picked up the bird and took it to the Wildlife Care Center, where they found its body temperature was so low it wasn’t even registering, and its vital signs began to plummet, the agency said.
"It was clear the pelican was dying," said PHS/SPCA Lead Wildlife Technician Greg Hassett. "I decided to try one last effort to save his life by creating a makeshift warming tent of clean towels with warm forced air and provided oxygen to the pelican while keeping his airway open."
With the pelican placed on a surgery table, Hassett enlisted the help of three others: Wildlife Technician Mariah Horan and interns Jess Qwan and Amy Caufield. The four took turns massaging the pelican to improve circulation as the warm air continued flowing into the towel tent, Hassett said.
When the bird began fighting back, it was a sign their efforts were paying off, he said. Soon, the bird started breathing on its own.
It was the first time PHS/SPCA performed such a procedure, the agency said.
"Through my training, I learned about the importance of keeping airways opens, but I’ve never had to do anything like this on a pelican before," Hassett said. "If we’d done nothing, the pelican surely would have perished, and I’m glad our efforts saved his life."
The pelican is recovering at PHS/SPCA in stable condition. He will continue to be monitored by wildlife staff until he improves enough to be returned to the wild, the agency said.
PHS/SPCA spokeswoman Buffy Martin Tarbox said the agency is treating two other starving pelicans found by the bayshore or coast.
Brown pelicans survive off of small fish at the surface of the water. Some experts worry those fish are following the warmer water to deeper levels, and that’s making it more difficult for pelicans to get the food they need.
"With whatever is happening right now in the bay, there’s just not the fish that they need to survive," Tarbox said. "It’s a very sad situation."
The California brown pelican, formerly an endangered species, is native to the Bay Area and is a common sight along the coastal California.