photo by Marcel Holyoak (Flickr CC)

The northern coast of Peru has seen the deaths of huge numbers of pelicans and dolphins in the last few weeks, prompting government warnings to stay away from certain beaches.

The Peruvian government’s health alert follows discoveries of some 1,200 dead birds (mostly pelicans) and over 800 dead dolphins. What is causing the deaths of these animals is unknown.

One possibility is that warming ocean temperatures have forced anchovies into other waters where the young birds can’t find them, meaning that the birds are dying due to starvation. Some 15 years ago El Niño was blamed for a mass pelican die off in Peru attributed to similar reasons.

This explanation does not fit the near 900 dolphins found dead. Officials have also more or less ruled out starvation, bird flu, by-catch or pesticide, heavy metal and biotoxin poisoning as well as seismic activity caused by oil exploration for the dolphin deaths.

From CNN:

Peruvian Deputy Environment Minister Gabriel Quijandria told CNN last month the dolphins may have died from an outbreak of Morbillivirus or Brucella bacteria. Morbillivirus is a class of viruses that are part of the same family as human measles; Brucella bacteria are the cause of many serious diseases in animals.

Read more on the story from Reuters.