Brown pelican found on Marco Beach with possible red tide poisoning

Reporter: Michelle Alvarez
Published: Updated:

A brown pelican was found on a Marco Island beach last week, showing signs of red tide toxicosis.

“Typically, when we first see evidence that red tide is happening, it’s the seabirds and so if this is a one off, then we don’t really know,” said Dr. Mike Parsons with the FGCU Water School.

“If we start seeing multiple reports of pelicans, seagulls, other seabirds that are displaying this behavior, this disorientation, toxicosis and whatnot, then that could mean that red tide is somewhere, typically it’ll be offshore at this point,” he added.

Staff at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida started the bird on an antibiotic, a vitamin supplement, eye ointments and electrolytes.

“We see this a lot in shorebirds and sea birds,” said Matt DePaolis with the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation. “That’s because they are able to travel those large distances. So, they’re able to quickly move from an area with the presence of red tide to one where we’re not seeing it. And generally it exhibits itself and just some off strange behaviors.”

A special net hammock was also used to keep pressure off the brown pelican’s breastbone after it was unable to stand on its own

“The birds almost stumble around like a drunk tourist or something like that on the beach. And so, when you see this, it’s obvious, you see this bird just as not healthy, it’s acting weird,” added Parsons. “It’s acting erratically. And so that’s because it ate fish that were exposed to the toxin, and then they were exposed to the toxin through the fish.”

Within two days of treatment, the pelican was trying to stand for short moments of time.

“I think it’s important for people to stay cognizant of what’s going on and the ecosystems around them. If they do see this wildlife, it’s really important to report it to the proper authorities,” DePaolis explained.

The pelican has shown small improvements in strength and behavior. It showed an interest in eating one small finger mullet, and staff says the increased appetite is a major improvement.

“I think the main thing is to report it. And you know, people on the water on the beaches, they’re basically our eyes and ears on what’s going on in the environment,” Parsons added.

The pelican is expected to make a full recovery.

If you encounter a bird in distress, the Conservancy says to carry a towel and keep a ventilated box or pet crate in your car. A lot of beachgoers call them because they see a bird suffering on the beach who needs help, but they’re often limited on what they can do because they don’t have supplies.

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