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Warm waters blamed for at least 5,000 pelican deaths on Peru's coast

By Marilia Brocchetto, CNN
updated 8:31 PM EDT, Fri May 11, 2012
A dying pelican crawls away from the surf. Peruvian officials say warm water has affected the birds' food supply.
A dying pelican crawls away from the surf. Peruvian officials say warm water has affected the birds' food supply.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Warm waters off Peru have chased away fish, a national center studying El Nino says
  • Surface-feeders like pelicans were left without a food supply
  • People are told seafood and the beaches are safe

(CNN) -- Warm waters off Peru are to blame in the deaths of more than 5,000 marine birds on the coast, government authorities say.

The Peruvian National Center for the Study of El Nino reported earlier this week that since February the Peruvian coast has had an abundance of warm water as a result of marine currents throughout the world's oceans. The warm water has altered the marine ecosystem, it said.

The warm water has led fish such as anchovy and other species that live in surface waters to migrate to deeper water toward the south. As a result, pelicans and other birds that feed from the surface of the water died of starvation.

"If these oceanographic conditions persist, it is likely that its impact will spread to other areas of the (Peruvian) coast even during the fall, which could make the numbers increase and affect other marine species" said the report.

The ministry of environment said seafood is still safe to eat, and encouraged everyone to continue to support local fishermen, according to state-run Andina news agency.

"Marine resources are fully guaranteed, so we promote consumption and discard the speculation that some people or institutions disseminated irresponsibly," said the deputy minister for strategic development of natural resources, Gabriel Quijandria.

Andina reported that Quijandria also clarified the beach warning that had been issued by authorities last week.

"The health alert does not prohibit admission to the beaches, but people are advised to avoid contact with the remains of pelicans, dolphins and other animals that are stranded," he said.

Officials in Peru continue to search for the culprit in the death of almost 900 dolphins since the beginning of the year. The health ministry is awaiting final results from molecular analysis looking for the morbillivirus, which previously has been linked to dolphin deaths.

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