St. Pete looking for cause of dead fish, pelicans

The two may be linked; studies underway
Posted at 6:57 PM, Jan 17, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-17 18:57:42-05

The city of St. Petersburg is trying to figure out what's killing birds in Coffee Pot Bayou.  Many are left to wonder if recent sewage spills are to blame. But the city insists something else in the water is most likely to blame.

The waters of Coffee Pot Bayou in St. Pete are calm and pristine. But the last few days, there's been a not so pleasant site. Fifteen dead pelicans have floated to shore.

"It's traumatic.  We can do better," said Mary Miller of St. Pete.

On top of the dead birds, another 31 are very sick and recovering at places like Seaside Seabird Sanctuary in Indian Shores.

"Birds were coming in very lethargic, bloated abdomens, their eyes were swollen and feathers falling off.  A lot of symptoms, that together, we can't figure out what's happening," said Eddie Gayton, operations manager at Seaside Seabirds Sanctuary.

The city's taking the matter seriously. While many are eager to point the finger at recent wastewater dumps in the bay, but the city insists that's highly unlikely. What could be connected is a nearby fish kill, that's linked to temperature changes.

"We're going to try to get the science right and make sure that whatever is causing this, we can identify it," said John Palenchar, St. Pete water resources interim director.

Lots of water samples are being taken, and the city's contracting with area scientists to pinpoint the pelican problem. As a precaution, it's posted warning signs, urging everyone not to use the water.

"I love to see the scientists take action in gathering information. We need real data here. We can't just sit by and let the tide come and wash this out," said Miler.

The good news is that the problem does seem to be improving. After 15 dead birds were found this weekend, only one was found dead Tuesday. 

At Seaside Seabird Sanctuary, hospital staff is working nonstop to nurse the sick birds back to health and could use volunteers and donations to keep things going.

As of late Tuesday afternoon, the city received preliminary test results, which indicate low oxygen levels in some of the water. But other samples have not shown that, and further testing is still underway.