On a global scale, brown pelicans are doing just fine. The IUCN lists their status as being that of Least Concern, which means the world is in no danger of losing brown pelicans anytime soon. It is the particular populations that live in the Gulf of Mexico whose habitat has been affected as a result of the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon deep sea oil rig and the resulting oil spill (Allen-Mills, 2010).
This isn't the first time brown pelicans are getting worldwide sympathy. In the 19th century pelicans were hunted for their plumage, and few habitats were safe from hunters. In 1903 U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt formed the country's first wildlife refuge for birds. It was only a five-acre patch of land on Pelican Island in Florida, but it was the first step toward what is now the National Wildlife Refuge System, which today covers more than 95 million acres total (Benzel, 2010).
While protected areas can keep hunters out, they cannot block the entry of pesticides and other environmental contaminants. The widespread use of DDT was especially harmful the vulnerable shells of brown pelican eggs and highly detrimental to the brown pelican populations in North America. It was only after the U.S. banned the use of DDT in 1972 that their numbers began to pick up (Ehrlich, 1988).
It may only be a certain subspecies of the brown pelican that has been affected, but the situation still concerns scientists. Ornithologists say they are not sure whether Louisiana's brown pelicans will survive this latest environmental disaster (Drash, 2010).
- Allen-Mills, T. (2010, June 6). "Pelicans herald Obama’s Katrina moment". Retrieved August 2010, from The Times: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/article7144834.ece
- AvianWeb.com. (2010). Brown Pelicans. Retrieved August 2010, from AvianWeb: http://www.avianweb.com/brownpelicans.html
- Benzel, K. (2010). Pelicans in Peril: History. Retrieved August 2010, from International Bird Rescue Research Centre: http://www.ibrrc.org/pelican_history.html
- Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis. (2010). Retrieved August 2010, from MarineBio.org
- Drash, W. (2010, June 15). Brown pelican long a symbol of survival. (CNN, Producer) Retrieved August 2010, from Gulf Coast Oil Disaster: http://www.cnn.com/2010/US/06/15/louisiana.brown.pelican/index.html
- Ehrlich, P., Dobkin, D., & Wheye, D. (1988). DDT and Birds. Retrieved from Birds of Stanford: http://www.stanford.edu/group/stanfordbirds/text/essays/DDT_and_Birds.html
- International Union for Conservation of Nature. (2010). Retrieved August 2010, from IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: http://www.iucnredlist.org/apps/redlist/search
- U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. (2010, August 9). Species Profile for Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis). Retrieved August 2010, from Environmental conservation online: http://www.fws.gov/ecos/ajax/speciesProfile/profile/speciesProfile.action?spcode=B02L
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