Peruvian officials examine a pelican carcass on the beach of Port Eten.
© Reuters
Peruvian officials examine a pelican carcass on the beach of Port Eten.
Government issues health alert after more than 1,400 birds are washed up along with 800 dolphins, with the cause unknown

Peru's government has declared a health alert along its northern coastline and urged residents and tourists to stay away from long stretches of beach as it investigates the unexplained deaths of hundreds of dolphins and pelicans.

At least 1,200 birds, mostly pelicans, have washed up dead along a stretch of Peru's northern Pacific coastline in recent weeks, according to health officials, and an estimated 800 dolphins have died in the same area in recent months.

The health ministry recommended staying away from beaches, although it stopped short of a ban, and called on health officials to use gloves, masks and other protective gear when collecting dead birds.

The peak tourism season around Lima's beaches is over but many surfers are still venturing into the waters near the capital.

The agriculture ministry said preliminary tests on some dead pelicans pointed to malnourishment. Oscar Dominguez, head of the ministry's health department, said experts had ruled out bird flu.

"The health ministry ... calls on the population to abstain from going to the beaches until the health alert is lifted," said a statement accompanied by a photograph of a dead pelican.

The ministry said officials had so far checked 18 beaches in and around Lima for dead birds but gave no details of any findings.

"We're starting from the hypothesis that it's because the birds are young and unable to find enough food for themselves, and also because the sea temperature has risen and anchovies have moved elsewhere," said Juan Rheineck, the deputy agriculture minister.

A mass pelican death along Peru's northern coast in 1997 was blamed at the time on a shortage of their anchovy staple diet due to the El Niño weather pattern.

Some were undeterred by the mysterious deaths. "We eat fresh fish on the quay of Chorrillos every day and no fisherman has died yet, so don't worry, it's nothing," said Gloria Rivera, a seafood restaurant owner.