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01 July 2006

stoned California pelican attacks car, detained

domoic acid

The Los Angeles Times (California USA)
Saturday 24 June 2006

Plastered Pelican
in Detox After Flying
Through Windshield

Domoic acid in algae is the likely
cause for inebriated seabirds

by Roy Rivenburg, Times Staff Writer

Four pelicans were being detained in an animal drunk tank Friday on suspicion of public intoxication, authorities said.

One of the birds was in guarded condition after allegedly flying under the influence Thursday and crashing through the windshield of a car on Coast Highway in Laguna Beach.

The driver was rattled but uninjured.

The other California brown pelicans [Pelecanus occidentalis californicus]
were nabbed in backyards or wandering local streets in a daze.

Although toxicology tests aren't complete (there are no bird breathalyzers), such behavior usually signals domoic acid poisoning from eating algae, said Lisa Birkle, assistant wildlife director at the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center in Huntington Beach, which is caring for the pelicans.

Domoic acid was also the likely culprit behind a 1961 seabird invasion that inspired Alfred Hitchcock's classic horror film "The Birds."

According to news reports, thousands of befuddled birds rained down on Northern California towns in August 1961, slamming into buildings and even pecking eight humans.

Nobody is predicting a Hitchcockian invasion here, but Birkle urged Southern California residents to be on the lookout for pelicans acting disoriented or turning up in unusual locations.

In the last week, the wildlife center fielded 16 calls of suspicious bird behavior. And more incidents are likely because ocean waters south of Los Angeles Harbor have tested positive for the poisonous algae, Birkle said.

The pelican that collided with the car is recovering from surgery for a broken foot and a 4-inch gash in its pouch.

"She's hanging in there," Birkle said. On Friday, the heavily sedated bird began eating on her own, a good sign for full recovery.

Blood tests for domoic acid will take about three weeks, but Birkle said she's never heard of a sober pelican crashing into a car.

The birds have phenomenal eyesight, she explained, noting that from high above the ocean, they are able to spot fish.

After the pelicans being held in Huntington Beach have sobered up, they will be released on their own recognizance.

Copyright © 2006, The Los Angeles Times

from Wikipedia:

Domoic acid

Domoic acid, which causes amnesic shellfish poisoning (ASP), is an amino acid phycotoxin (algal toxin) found associated with certain algal blooms [1].

In 1958, domoic acid was originally isolated from the red alga called "doumoi" or "hanayanagi" (Chondria armata [2]) in Japan. "Doumoi" is used as an anthelmintic [?] in Tokunoshima, Kagoshima.

Domoic acid is also produced by diatoms of the genus Pseudo-nitzschia [3][4]. The chemical can bioaccumulate in marine organisms that feed on the phytoplankton, such as shellfish, anchovies, and sardines.

In mammals, including humans, domoic acid acts as a neurotoxin, causing short-term memory loss, brain damage, and death in severe cases. Red tides are associated with the phenomenon of ASP. Considerable recent research has been carried out by the Marine Mammal Center and other scientific centers on the association of red tides to domoic acid and to resulting neurological damage in marine mammals of the Pacific Ocean.

In the brain, domoic acid especially damages the hippocampus and amygdaloid nucleus. It damages the neurons by activating AMPA and kainate receptors, causing an influx of calcium. Although calcium flowing into cells is a normal event, the uncontrolled increase of calcium causes the cell to degenerate.

On June 22, 2006, a California brown pelican, possibly under the influence of domoic acid, flew through the windshield of a car on the Pacific Coast Highway. The acid is found in the local seas.

Domoic acid poisoning was the most likely cause of a 1961 invasion of thousands of frantic seabirds in Northern California that inspired Alfred Hitchcock's film The Birds.


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