In The Pipeline: Keep an eye out for animal cruelty

The good news is the crime wave seems to have subsided. The bad news is about three dozen otherwise healthy birds had to be euthanized after their right wings were shattered.

It was the gruesome mystery that had all the local wildlife experts in Surf City scratching their heads.

Debbie McGuire, wildlife director at the Wetlands & Wildlife Care Center where the birds have been brought when discovered, said last week that she has never seen anything quite like it.

"It almost seems ritualistic, even cultish," she said. "In just about every case the right wing has been brutally broken and all but one of the birds has had to be euthanized. We have no idea what's going on. If it's occurring at sea, there could be many more that die before they get to shore. It's bizarre. This is the work of a monster."

Can you even imagine what sort of sadist could derive pleasure from trapping and then snapping a bird's wing? Seagulls, pelicans, a cormorant, a crow — it's one of the most — if not the most — vicious crime sprees against wildlife since 11 pelicans had their wings snapped in 2008.

Kelly Beavers, a wildlife technician at the center, was the first to notice the pattern. She notified center Director Greg Hickman.

"I said to him, 'This is not normal,'" she said. "This is mass craziness.

"The radial, ulna and humerus bones are completely torn apart in almost all cases. Ripped wide open, an open wound with shattered, fragmented bone. The birds, when they get brought here, are completely healthy except for these horrific wounds. We have to put them down and it hurts so much more because the birds are otherwise fine, but they just can't be repaired."

She showed me an X-ray of a seagull that might survive.

"The break was not as bad, so we think we can repair it," she said.

All of the euthanized birds are being kept as evidence instead of being cremated as they normally would be. If a culprit is caught, their bodies will play an important part in the prosecution's case.

Beavers removed them from the freezer and laid them out on the floor. The injuries were so obvious and disturbing — and almost identical. It was sickening.

"Whoever is doing this needs to be caught," Beavers said tearfully. "This is sinister, cruel and brutal."

Hickman agrees that it's one of the most peculiar crimes he's ever seen.

"It's as much a sickening mystery to us as it is to everyone else," he said. "Nearly identical compound fractures of the right wing. So severely injured, there's almost nothing we can do for them. None of this makes sense. They're not net injuries that you might see from a fishing boat. This is a blunt and twisting force that seems very deliberate. Horrible crimes."

Seagulls are protected by state and federal laws. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, anyone who injures them can face a maximum of six months in jail or a $15,000 fine.

Hickman also said that the local Department of Fish and Game and all other relevant agencies were notified but have not been able to figure out how the injuries are being inflicted and by whom. The luckiest break would be for a witness to photograph one of the events as it happens.

But again, it seems the sadist (or sadists) has taken a break. But be on the lookout along the beaches, primarily from the pier to where Huntington hits Newport Beach. Be vigilant, be aware and be quick with a camera should you see anything.

Anyone with information about these crimes should contact the California DFG or e-mail wwccinfo@gmail.com.

CHRIS EPTING is the author of 18 books, including the new "Hello, It's Me: Dispatches from a Pop Culture Junkie." You can write him at chris@chrisepting.com.

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