Wildlife rescuers rehabilitating California sea birds suffering from poisoning

Birds found in Santa Barbara, Ventura Counties

Domoic Acid "Loon Crisis"

GOLETA, Calif. - Wildlife rescuers have their hands full this spring as hundreds of seabirds are coming to shore possibly suffering from domoic acid poisoning.

Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network Animal Care Coordinator Elaine Ibarra spent Saturday tube feeding a loon that wouldn't eat on its own.

"Hes afraid, they are not used to being around people because they are always in the water," Ibarra said.

The pelagic birds are turning up in large numbers on California shores. SBWCN volunteers rescued hundreds of seabirds, mostly loons, from Ventura and Santa Barbara County beaches.

Domoic acid naturally builds up in the environment and is often referred to as red tide.

"It is in plankton layer, the fish consume it and then the animals that eat the fish develop a toxicity," Ibarra said.

The affects are alarming: the sea birds become disoriented and even have seizures.

"People are very concerned seeing large numbers dead and dying," Ibarra said. "We get a lot of calls."

The Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network in Goleta helps stabilize the birds and get them ready for transport to International Bird Rescue in San Pedro, where rehabilitation is completed.

Ibarra says typically domoic acid toxicity is seen in sea lions, pelicans and cormorants among others.

But this year seabirds, especially loons, were hit really hard.

"It is normal to some degree," Ibarra said. "Why it was so bad this year, we are still speculating. There is a lot of lab work being done."

At the peak, the SBWCN saw 50 to 60 birds every week and Ibarra is hoping that the worst is over.

If you see a sick bird, keep your eye on it and give the Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network a call at (805) 681-1080.

The organization also needs volunteers in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. Ventura County Seabird Rescue is staffed completely by volunteers.

Donations to the Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network can be made online.

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