A weak and distressed brown pelican recently crash-landed on a roof in Seaside, Ore. A plastic bag was wrapped around its neck so tightly that the bird couldn't breathe.
"The plastic bag could have killed him," said Sharnelle Fee, who runs the Wildlife Center of the North Coast, an Astoria rehabilitation facility for wild animals.
The animal recovered quickly and was released. It's unknown — perhaps unlikely — whether the plastic bag was Japanese tsunami debris. But the episode has wildlife researchers and advocates worried that this could be a deadly summer for coastal birds and wildlife.
Tsunami debris could be a hazard to animals. But so could the hordes of beachcombers scavenging the shore for it.
Recently, thousands of scraps of foam have begun washing up on peninsula shores along with other debris. That foam, if ingested, could cause serious harm to birds and other forms of aquatic life.
So far, Fee hasn't seen any sick animals linked to tsunami debris, but she believes it's probably only a matter of time before they start showing up.
"We haven't had a lot, but this is just the leading edge," Fee said, "It's gonna be an ongoing thing, and an incremental thing.
The prospect that tons of flotsam washing ashore could draw hordes of beachcombers to the coast this summer. On the Long Beach Peninsula, one of few coastal areas where beach driving is allowed, extra motorists could pose a hazard to wildlife, if not people, too.
Though the speed limit is 25 mph, motorists often speed down the sand at faster speeds, oblivious to animals on the beach, Fee said.
"There's going to be more cars this year because people want to look for stuff. Be aware there's lots of seabirds out there," Fee said.
Beachcombers who encounter sick or injured animals should get them off the beach, if it seems safe to do so. "Capturing the animal, if safe, is the number-one priority," Fee said.
Captured animals should not be taken home. It's illegal, and birds especially can be very difficult to care for.
"These birds need specialized care by a licensed rehabilitator that has the facilities to care for them and the expertise to rehabilitate them," Fee said.
She encourages beach-goers not to release distressed animals before consulting with her or another animal rescue expert.
"If people are not comfortable catching something or don't know how, they can call us for advice," Fee said.
To report injured wildlife on the central and north Oregon Coast and the Long Beach peninsula, call the Wildlife Center of the North Coast in Astoria at (503) 338-0331.