2010 March 5, Monday
Mobile Bay, Alabama
Last week, we heard from local fishermen near Mobile, Alabama about some very peculiar and unusual behavior by pelicans and other seabirds. They said that while the birds always like to follow their shrimp boats, lately the birds have become very aggressive and are literally storming the boats, the nets, and the decks, in their frantic efforts to eat the fish. We were told that "the birds are behaving as if they are starving and desperate for food, to the point that they seem to have little regard for danger to their own lives. They divebomb us, our work tables, the boat, the nets, everything." We also spoke with folks who run a seabird rescue center near Mobile, and they said that they've been receiving an enormous number of adolescent pelicans who are almost starved. Apparently they are unable to catch enough fish for themselves, although other than being undernourished they seem healthy enough. We contacted a few journalists and invited them to join us out on the water with some of these fishermen to witness this for ourselves. We were treated to a very interesting day on the water with Captains Michael Paul Williams, Pete Zirlott, and Sidney Schwartz, coordinated by our friend Zack Carter.
We did indeed see this behavior by the pelicans, gulls, and loons, although the captains told us that the birds were "better behaved" today -- perhaps because there were so many people on the boat all pointing cameras at them? These captains are third and fourth-generation fishermen here, and they all say they have never seen behavior like this. It is not unusual for fishing to be sparse in the winter, but the birds have never acted this desperate nor been this aggressive in trying to take fish from the boats. Another peculiar feature of today's boat trip was that we saw not a single dolphin. The fishermen were very surprised at this, as the norm for them is to have dolphins all around and crossing their track frequently.
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