MONTEREY, Calif. — Experts on sea birds say flocks of rare brown California pelicans have become too dependant on a "free lunch"--restaurant scraps and hand-outs--and are being wiped out by a cholera-like epidemic.
Dan Anderson, of the University of California at Davis, said life has been so easy for the big birds on Monterey's tourist-laden Fisherman's Wharf that they became docile and refused to migrate south six weeks ago. He said the easy feeding has made "pier bums" of the birds, which are becoming more and more aggressive, fighting over scraps, chasing children and even biting the hands that feed them.
"They're sticking around because they're getting a free lunch," concurred Jim Bennett, of the Monterey County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
In response to growing numbers of pelicans that began washing up on Monterey Peninsula beaches in October, the SPCA this month began posting "please don't feed the pelicans" signs along the wharf. Wharf merchants last week contributed by agreeing to a feeding ban, and shut down stands where tourists could buy 75-cent bags of bait fish sold as "sea lion food."