At first the pelican was standing on the beach. As I walked by it just stared. As I sat at Donde Teresa in Mancora, my hotel restaurant, I could still see it standing there. Five minutes later some dogs came close to it and started barking. Young dogs. They didn’t know any better. I chased them away. Five minutes later the pelican was dead. The sea was washing over it.
Over the next two weeks while traveling along Peru’s northern coast, before any of the news reports of mass pelican deaths, I saw them again and again in Zorritos, Mancora, Pimentel, Santa Rosa, and elsewhere. There were some healthy pelicans it seemed. They would fly together over the surf or hang out near fishing piers. The healthiest I found were at Caleta el Ñuro, where fishermen were tossing out their leftover catch and scraps off the pier before it was packed on ice and taken away by truck to markets around the country. Hundreds of sea turtles fought for the scraps with the hundreds of pelicans here, though at many other piers the catch was lighter. La Niña has lead to warmer waters and some say the shortage of food has left the pelicans dying of starvation, though that period is in the process of returning to normal. I can’t say the dying pelicans l encountered looked starving. More sick than skinny.