Peru examines deaths of more than 500 pelicans

A dying pelican on a beach in northern Peru The cause of the deaths remains a mystery

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The government of Peru has warned people to stay off beaches along large stretches of its coastline as it investigates the mysterious deaths of hundreds of dolphins and seabirds.

More than 1,000 birds, mostly pelicans, have washed up dead along the northern Pacific coast in recent weeks, after many dolphins died in the same area.

The health ministry stopped short of closing beaches.

But it advised people to stay away until the health alert was lifted.

The area affected includes popular beaches near the capital, Lima.

Peru's main holiday season is over, but the Pacific coast is still popular with surfers.

Thousands of Peruvians also depend on the sea for their livelihoods.

The health ministry alert warned local officials to wear gloves, masks and other protective equipment while handling dead birds and animals.

Preliminary investigations have found the dolphin deaths may have been caused by a virus.

A viral epidemic outbreak was linked to similar deaths of marine wildlife in Peru in the past, as well as in Mexico and the United States.

But there has been no explanation for the deaths of pelicans.

One theory is that a shift in ocean currents may have moved rich shoals of anchovy away from the coastline, leaving the birds without enough food.

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