While beachgoers lounging on the shore can typically see pelicans plunge into the water for fish, it was Newport Beach's Animal Control officers who did the hunting for about 40 hungry birds last weekend.
Animal Control brought 200 pounds of fish to the Wetlands & Wildlife Care Center, which was close to running out of food after being inundated with young, injured and starving pelicans this season, said Wildlife Director Debbie McGuire.
Storms in Mexico and warmer water can drive fish favored by the birds into deeper, cooler waters, where only more skilled hunters can scoop them up, she said.
Recently, young pelicans have struggled to eat and would instead chase fishermen's catch, often sustaining fractured wings or other injuries when hooks damaged their bodies and bills.
As of July 1, 120 pelicans passed through the Huntington Beach center's doors. On Saturday evening, the center was caring for 43 pelicans.
Senior Animal Control Officer Valerie Schomburg said she noticed the influx of pelicans Friday when she received seven pelican-related calls.
"This is just not normal," she said, adding that some of the birds were found in Costa Mesa backyards.
While Schomburg frequently travels to disaster-affected regions to save animals in distress, the recent flood of pelicans into the area hit closer to home.
"We all in the animal field felt that this was a local animal emergency disaster," she said.
McGuire said in addition to working overtime to rescue injured pelicans, Newport Beach Animal Control officers asked what they could do, and that's when she told them that they risked running out of pelican chow.
Orange County Sheriff's Department Harbor Patrol took Animal Control officers out to the bait barge near the harbor mouth channel where they bought anchovies for the hungry pelicans, according to McGuire and Newport Beach police spokeswoman Kathy Lowe.
"They're an incredible group," McGuire said.
Schomburg said she so appreciates the work of the wildlife center that she would do it whether she was on or off the clock.
"Even if I had to do it on my day off, I would have," she said.
Anyone who encounters a sick pelican can call Newport Beach Animal Control at (939) 644-3717, alert Harbor Patrol or contact the center at (714) 374-5587.