Answers for L.B. bird deaths still up in the air

It is a site of complete horror for anyone who has witnessed the recent deaths of hundreds of baby terns washing up on Long Beach’s shores, some only days old. Why is this suddenly happening?

Investigations are being held by several authorities, including the California Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Coast Guard, which have gathered information on possible reasons for the deaths of these small birds.

Possible speculations are, according to Mark Russell, manager of the International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC) in San Pedro, that the terns were removed from their nesting area on barges and put into the ocean. He even suggested they were sprayed off with a power hose or shoveled into the water.

Authorities from the state Department of Fish and Game are speaking with the owner of the barges because the movement of some of the barges could also stand as a reason for the terns’ disturbance. Bird rescuers believe the baby terns’ cause of death is a result of them jumping, or even being removed by force, from the barges into the water where they soon drowned.

Karen Benzel, spokeswoman for the IBRRC’s San Pedro office, stated that until U.S. Coast Guard and Department of Fish and Game complete their investigations, one can only continue to speculate on the causes.

About 2,000 Elegant and Caspian terns are nested in a breeding colony near Long Beach. The colony has become somewhat of a tourist attraction.

They were nesting on a barge just south of Island White, which was unusual because the terns have always settled their nesting ground on Terminal Island. The believed reason for the terns’ relocation to the barges was an overgrowth of vegetation on Terminal Island. Authorities and animal rights activists are working toward designating an official nesting area off the Belmont Pier.

So far, there are “24 survivors, mainly birds with feathers,” said Benzel. When asked how many have died, Benzel stated about “413 have been bagged and numbered for the investigation. But not all that have died have been collected.”

It is unknown exactly how many have died because not all of them washed up onto the shore. The birds are only day-old babies without feathers and sthey cannot swim. Necropsies are being performed to confirm if the birds died from drowning.

Professionals of the IBRRC in San Pedro go through a very long process to nurse the surviving birds back to health.

According to Benzel, the Caspian and Elegant terns are “birds of concern.” As a bird becomes “rarer,” the investigation becomes more of a big deal. An animal can be placed on a “threatened list” before it actually becomes an endangered species.

As a result of the large concern over these specific terns, they are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, a federal law. It is a misdemeanor to disturb them.

The law states that it is prohibited to “pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, attempt to take, capture or kill, possess, offer for sale, sell, offer to purchase, purchase, deliver for shipment, ship, cause to be shipped, deliver for transportation, transport, cause to be transported, carry, or cause to be carried by any means whatever, receive for shipment, transportation or carriage, or export, at any time, or in any manner, any migratory bird, included in the terms of this Convention . . . for the protection of migratory birds . . . or any part, nest or egg of any such bird.”

The International Fund for Animal Welfare has offered a $10,000 reward to anyone who may have information that can serve as evidence to the recent baby tern deaths. Please contact Special Agent Erin Dean at (310) 328-1516.

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