Pelicans eat WHOLE fish…

Pelicans eat fish from the ocean. Small to medium sized fish. These fish are eaten whole, and they slide down the pelican’s throat easily. They are slimy and are meant to be digested whole. However, when pelicans get into the fish carcass disposal, or worse, are FED fish carcasses, the bones and spines of the fish will cut the pelican’s throat and stomach which can lead to infection and death. In some cases, the fish is too big to be swallowed, but the spines will get stuck in the pelican’s throat which means that the fish will be stuck and the pelican will simply starve. It’s a very horrible fate, and one which we recently saved one lucky pelican from.

We got a call about a pelican which appeared injured at Morro rock. When we arrived, we noticed the pelican had a giant bulge in his throat, and what looked like a piece of fish hanging out. We netted him and held him while attempting to get the fish out right there on the beach. We were unable to because the fish spines were pointing out like a fishing hook, and every time we tried to remove it, the spines would rip through this poor animal’s gullet. So we brought it in to the shelter.

It took 3 people several agonizing minutes during which the fate of this pelican was unsure. One volunteer had to use both hands to completely surround the fish inside the throat while still allowing air flow for the bird to breath. Together they had to unhook each spine that had ripped through the gullet. During this stressful time, the pelican must have been very frightened and in pain. Finally, the fish was pulled out of this pelican’s throat, and everyone sighed with relief.

This is the fish the volunteers pulled out (next to a hand for size comparison).

These were the spines that had poked through his gullet.


The pelican was given pain medication and antibacterial medication to ensure the cuts would not get infected. He was then put into one of our indoor pelican boxes with another fellow “patient” where he could be warm and eat an unlimited supply of yummy fish until he feels better.

This pelican was very lucky. He was lucky that a kind person called in, and lucky that an organization run by volunteers cares for him.

YOU can help too! Keep your eyes open for injured wildlife, and if you spot something, don’t hesitate to call 805-543-WILD.

You can also help by educating your peers! Tell them what you learn, or send them a link! It takes an entire community working in partnership to preserve and ensure the humane treatment, rehabilitation and care of our vital wildlife.

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