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Climate and Environment

Dozens of Dead Seabirds Washed Up On Venice Beaches This Week, And Tiny Parasites Might Be To Blame

A dead bird lays on the beach as the sun sets in Venice California.
At least 20 dead cormorants reportedly washed up to on the beach in Venice Tuesday.
(Jonathan Alcorn for LAist)
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Dozens of dead seabirds have washed up on Venice beaches this week— the Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors counted at least 35 on Thursday alone.

Wildlife experts told LAist it’s concerning to see so many dead animals concentrated in one place. The L.A. County Public Health Department sent several of the carcasses to a lab for necropsies to determine the cause of death.

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Dozens of Seabirds Washed Up On Venice Beaches This Week, A Tiny Parasite Might Be To Blame

Rebecca Duerr, a veterinarian and research director at the International Bird Rescue in San Pedro believes the birds are Brandt’s Cormorants, dark-colored “footswimmers” with webbed feet plentiful along the Pacific Coast.

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“The more mature the birds are, the more beautifully iridescent their feathers are,” Duerr said. Their eyes and feathers on their throats turn bright blue during the breeding season.

Since 2018, she’s noticed something wrong with several cormorants washing up on L.A. beaches in the spring.

Find a debilitated or dead bird?
    • Don’t touch it. Take a picture and note the bird’s location.
    • The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health says for a single dead bird, call 877-WNV-BIRD, or go online. For clusters of 3 or more dead birds, call 213-288-7060.
    • The International Bird Rescue has tips for helping injured birds. You can also call their help line from 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. at 310-514-2573.

The cormorants were dazed, tremoring and having seizures before ultimately dying. Duerr and others identified a parasitic single-celled organism causing cysts and swelling in the cormorant’s brains.

“Every year since we first noticed the problem, we've been having these little outbreaks amongst Brandt's Cormorants, but we've never had this many birds affected before,” Duerr said, adding that she thinks it’s to blame for the most recent deaths.

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“I'll be a little surprised if it's something else, but, always possible there's some other weird thing going on,” Duerr said.

Other types of birds could also have this problem but haven’t been identified in Southern California.

Duerr said if more cormorants are dying from the parasite than previous years it could be a cause for concern.

The birds’ deaths didn’t go unnoticed by residents.

Photographer Jonathan Alcorn was watching the sunset Tuesday night west of Venice Boulevard when he saw around 20 dead birds in the sand.

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“It was actually pretty surreal looking to see him lined up like that on the shoreline,” Alcorn said.

What questions do you have about Southern California?