Mysterious Animal Deaths Prompt Peru to Issue Health Alert

Last month, reports first began to surface of an ongoing animal die-off on the beaches of northern Peru -- but as the mysterious deaths have escalated, so too has the cause for alarm. All told, hundreds of dolphins and pelicans have been found dead since February, prompting the Peruvian government to issue a public health warning.

In an announcement over the weekend, Peru's health ministry presented an alert urging people to stay clear of a long stretch of coastline where thousands of animals have turned up dead in recent months. Although the beaches will officially remain open, the ministry publicly advises that health workers take precautions when clearing away the bodies of dolphins, pelicans, and other wildlife, as the origin of the die-off has yet to be determined.

From The Guardian:

"The health ministry ... calls on the population to abstain from going to the beaches until the health alert is lifted," the ministry said in a statement posted on its website, along with a photograph of a dead pelican. It added that officials had so far checked 18 beaches in and around Lima for dead birds, but gave no details on any findings. A mass pelican death along Peru's northern coast in 1997 was blamed at the time on a shortage of feeder anchovies due to the el Niño phenomenon

When dolphins started washing ashore in droves earlier this year, biologists first suspected that underwater oil exploration was to blame; sonar and acoustic sensing equipment have proven lethal to whales and orcas in the past. More recently, however, scientists believe that a virus may be behind the 877 dolphins found dead since February.

The estimated 1,200 pelican deaths over this same time period is not thought to be related following preliminary investigations, though avian flu has been ruled out as the cause.

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