Terngate Results Suggest Criminal Charges Against Those Who Killed Seabirds in Southern California

| Wed Jan. 31, 2007 8:42 PM EST

Chased off California's beaches by hordes of Homo sapiens, terns—graceful seabirds with white bodies and flippety black crests—have resorted to nesting on barges. Last summer more than 500 baby terns, too young to fly, were massacred when someone washed them off the barges with high-pressure hoses. Two species, Caspian terns and elegant terns, lost their entire breeding season in the debacle. The Los Angeles Times reports:

State wildlife officials today said they have forwarded the results of a seven month investigation into the massacre of hundreds of young seabirds last summer to the Long Beach City attorney's office for criminal prosecution.

Only 23 birds survived in a case known as "terngate" among environmentalists who had grown frustrated with the length of the investigation and the failure of state and federal wildlife officials to preemptively prevent the loss of an entire breeding season of terns.

"This case required a lengthy investigation," California State Fish and Game Lt. Kent Smirl said. "But it's not going away. We've done an excellent investigation, one of the best this department has ever done in Long Beach."

Smirl, whose agency led the investigation that included the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, also said he expects charges to be filed by Long Beach city prosecutors. He declined to identify who could be charged.

"I'll be sitting in the courtroom when this case goes to trial," said Lisa Fimiani of the Audubon Society's Los Angeles chapter. "It's terrible to have to learn an important lesson in a lightning rod event like this. It tells us these birds were so desperate for nesting space they settled on barges."

The International Fund for Animal Welfare was offering a $10,000 reward for information on who was responsible for destroying the nesting colony of Caspian and Elegant terns.

This blogger once spent a 4-month breeding season living with elegant terns on an island off Mexico and I can tell you that no slacker with a high-pressure hose has ever worked as hard in a week as these birds work in a day raising their chicks. May they be sentenced in the afterlife to a hell of highwater without life jackets. Come to think of it, that's coming their way anyway with global warming.

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