California brown pelicans ( Pelecanus occidentalis californicus ) were exposed to oil spills just prior to the 1990 breeding season and during the 1991 breeding season in the Southern California Bight (SCB); some were captured, rehabilitated (cleaned and given veterinary care) and released (total = 31 colour- and radio-marked + 81 colour-marked only; = RHB). Nineteen unoiled controls (= CON) from the SCB population, but from an unaffected area, were captured, radio-marked (11) and/or colour-marked (8) in 1990. Despite extensive surveys in the Gulf of California and western Baja California (latitude 23° to 30°N), all radio signals, recoveries and sightings were on the Pacific Coast between 30° and 47°N from 1990–1992. After release and until radio-telemetry data ceased to provide a complete sampling of RHB and CON (after about 6 months), RHB pelicans disappeared at a higher rate than CON; a continuing lower survival of RHB was also indicated from independent sightings of colour-marked pelicans by late 1992. RHB pelicans showed no breeding activity (or even presence or association with breeding colonies) in both years. In contrast, expected proportions of radio-marked CON pelicans were active at breeding colonies in 1990, and the general brown pelican population (which acted as controls in 1991) was active at breeding colonies in 1991. Post-breeding dispersal occurred as expected (mostly to the north) in 1990 and 1991 with CON. RHB pelicans remained sedentary in the SCB for at least 5–6 months in 1990 but dispersed north ahead of CON (as expected for non-breeders) in 1991, apparently in response to building ENSO (El Niño/Southern Oscillation) conditions in the SCB 1991–1992. RHB pelicans (1990) tended to remain farther away from the breeding colonies than CON (1990) in their second post-rehabilitation breeding season. At that time, their dispersal behaviour was similar to that expected for non-breeding adults and juveniles. We conclude that oil and/or rescue and treatment result in long-term injury to brown pelicans, and that current efforts do not restore them to breeding condition or normal survivability.
Marine Pollution Bulletin – Elsevier
Published: Oct 1, 1996
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