Pelicans invade Chile coast
El Nino may be to blame
August 31, 1997
Web posted at: 4:46 p.m. EDT (2046 GMT)
ARICA, Chile (CNN) -- It's a scenario similar to
Alfred Hitchcock's classic horror movie "The Birds."
Thousands of pelicans have invaded the coastal town of
Arica, in northern Chile. In this case, however, the
birds are the victims, falling prey to the hazards of
their new urban environment.
The chief cause of the influx, many people believe, is
El Nino -- a periodic warming of the ocean that occurs
in the Pacific every few years.
El Nino is a natural weather cycle that disrupts ocean
and atmospheric temperatures in the tropical Pacific.
Ocean water temperatures have already risen five to 10
degrees in some areas this year.
In the process, the normal food chain of marine
animals and birds like the pelican is disrupted. The
resulting lack of food disorients several species, and
they end up in places far from their normal habitats.
The phenomena in Arica has occurred on several
previous occasions and this year coincides with the
arrival of warmer tropical ocean currents off the
In Arica, some 1,240 miles (2,000 kilometers) north of
Santiago, the resident pelican colony has soared from
200 to 4,000 in the past few weeks.
The pelicans have literally taken over the streets as
they forage for food. Local traffic often comes to a
halt as drivers are forced to wait for large flocks of
pelicans to cross the road.
"Their attitude is very passive, always," said local
fisherman Alejandro Olivares. "They don't move for
The beep of car horns fails to sway the birds, and
many are killed by moving vehicles. Overhead
electricity cables also have taken their toll.
Chile's coastline isn't the only area affected by this
year's El Nino.
Record snowfall in the Peruvian Andes has forced the
government to declare a national emergency in parts of
And scientists at the Scripps Institution of
Oceanography at the University of California at San
Diego have warned that precipitation patterns could be
severely disrupted this winter in many parts of the