by Ethan Stewart
Though the investigation is still being conducted, it appears hundreds of seabirds may have died on a barge that served as the staging area for the Independence Day fireworks extravaganza in Santa Barbara. The mystery began a couple of hundred miles to the south in the days leading up to the Fourth when hundreds of dead baby terns washed up on the shores of Long Beach near Island White. According to sources at the International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC), approximately 2,000 adult terns and their chicks had been nesting in recent months on two barges moored off Long Beach. Shortly after one of these barges was cleaned — in preparation to travel up the coast to serve as the launching pad for Santa Barbara’s Independence Day pyrotechnics — the first wave of dead and dying Caspian and Elegant terns came ashore in Long Beach. When the barge returned from being cleaned and another 100 or so terns washed up dead or near death in Long Beach, the California Department of Fish and Game launched an investigation and found the two barges completely devoid of terns or tern nests. While a Fish and Game spokesperson stressed that the mystery is far from solved, witnesses believe that foul play occurred when barge workers hosed off the boats. As of press time, more than 420 birds had been found dead, with approximately two dozen being nursed back to health at the IBRRC in San Pedro.