Five brown pelicans nursed to health at SeaWorld San Diego were returned to the wild at Mission Bay Thursday.
» Sign Up For Breaking News Alerts» Like Us On Facebook» Follow Us On Twitter
Three of the five birds were from Arizona, likely blown off course by storms, said SeaWorld's Kelly Terry.
She said they were part of an influx of 80 malnourished or injured pelicans to be brought to SeaWorld since July 1. For the year, 151 of the sea birds have been cared for at the facility, and 17 are still being treated, compared to 175 all of last year, she said.
The rate of pelican rescues always rises in the summer, but the numbers are a little higher than normal this year, Terry said.
"We think there is a rise in population," she said. "Brown pelicans were removed from the endangered species list in 2010."
According to Zandra Albiez of SeaWorld, most of the injured birds are very young and either became dehydrated coming up from their nesting areas in Baja or got tangled up in fishing lines looking for food.
While the number of injures seems high, Albiez said in a way that could be good news.
"I think we're seeing higher numbers because the actual population is doing quite well."
The birds were put on the endangered list because a number of them were dying off due to the chemical DDT found in the water. The substance has since been banned and the pelican population has increased, but just because they were taken off the endangered list two years ago, Albiez said, "They are a fragile species and all it would take would be more chemicals in the water and their numbers would go down again."
Terry said SeaWorld takes in pelicans from rehabilitation facilities that don't have enough space for large birds. Birds are released when their injuries have healed, their nourishment has improved and their feathers are clean.
Brown pelicans are normally found along coastal habitats along the West Coast and Gulf Coast regions of the U.S., and in Central and South America. They generally weigh around 7 1/2 pounds and have a wing span of 5 1/2 feet.
Copyright Do you have more information about this story? Click here to contact usCopyright 2012 by 10News.com. City News Service contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.