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.