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Rescued from BP oil spill, brown pelicans are MIA

By By Dianna Wray
Oct. 10, 2010 at 5:10 a.m.

Brown pelicans swimming in the water after their release  last June into the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.

A bit of history President Theodore Roosevelt established Pelican Island as the first national wildlife refuge to protect brown pelicans.

Brown pelicans were almost wiped out as a result of the use of DDT in the 1970s.

Brown pelicans were taken off the endangered species list in November 2009.

During the summer, brown pelicans caught in the wake of the oil spill were whisked out of the path of the oil.

The rescuers took them east and west from Louisiana, trying to get them out of the path of the environmental disaster.

More than 100 birds were taken to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Austwell and about 20 birds were released at Goose Island, near Rockport.

The birds were flown in from Louisiana, rehabilitated if they were injured and tagged with slim aluminum rings placed around the stubby, brown ankle of each relocated pelican.

They were then released with great fanfare, photos and media waiting to greet them as they stalked out of their carriers, flapping away to their new homes.

They haven't been seen since.

To date, 443 brown pelicans have been reported dead from the BP Chemical oil spill, according to the Unified Command Center's website, but the fate of pelicans moved into Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and Goose Island State Park remains unclear.

"No, we haven't come across any of the relocated ones, but no news is good news in this case," Texas Parks and Wildlife pollution biologist Alex Nunez said.

The relocated birds aren't being tracked, so the only way they would be found is if they were dead, Nunez said.

Brown pelicans have a long history of tough times.

Last November, officials gathered in New Orleans to remove brown pelicans from the endangered species list.

Six months later, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, sinking into the Gulf and millions of barrels of oil flowed into the Gulf of Mexico.

The Deepwater spill left many concerned about the effects on the environment in general and brown pelicans in particular.

After the spill, some of the impacted birds were relocated to the area because this area supports the same kind of habitat - sandy beaches and coastal areas where the birds can plunge into the water, catching the fish they live on into their beaks.

There have been no reports of the birds being sighted at either of the release points Goose Island park interpreter Mike Mullenweg said.

"The birds may have simply made their homes in the area or they may have migrated back to Louisiana," Mullenweg said.

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge wildlife specialist Vicki Mueller took a more positive view. While the pelicans haven't been sighted in the area that doesn't mean they aren't still there, she said.

"These birds have short legs and they keep them tucked up under them most of the time. An aluminum ring can be kind of hard to spot," Mueller said.

Muelller said they accepted 104 pelicans - the most they could comfortably take in the area.

"We're very hopeful that the birds have settled here and are living happy lives," Mueller said.

Texas Parks and Wildlife wildlife biologist Brent Ortego was less optimistic that the birds are still in the area.

"If they haven't been seen here, then most likely they went back to the places they were from - that means they went back to the oil spill, and I don't know how they fared," Ortego said.

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