The general public in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties have noticed a change in wildlife behavior over the past few months as well, observing scores of pelagic birds, which normally stay in the water, beaching themselves. Pelagic birds typically land on beaches only if they are injured, ill, or severely malnourished. Research has confirmed that the current increased incidence of beached marine mammals and seabirds in Santa Barbara and Ventura is due to domoic acid poisoning.
In April, the SBWCN began to receive calls regarding pelicans exhibiting signs of neurological disfunction associated with domoic acid poisoning such as confusion, lethargy, seizures, head-bobbing or weaving, and foaming at the mouth. In total, the SBWCN has received 93 pelicans since the beginning of the year.
Marine species high up the food chain, such as sea lions, dolphins, and fish-eating (piscivorous) birds, are especially susceptible to domoic acid poisoning since the toxin accumulates upon ascent within the food chain. Domoic acid builds up in shellfish, and consequently, the California Department of Public Health warned people not to eat shellfish harvested noncommercially from California waters. Unfortunately, domoic acid poisoning can be fatal, and of the 344 birds that the SBWCN has treated since January, only 126 pelicans and pelagic birds survived long enough to be stabilized and consequently released or transferred to the International Bird Rescue in San Pedro for extended care.