05/06/2012 12:33 EDT | Updated 07/06/2012 05:12 EDT

Peru coast littered with dead birds, dolphins

The government of Peru has warned people away from beaches along the country's northern coast due to the hundreds of dead birds and dolphins that have washed up on shore.

More than 1,000 dead birds, a majority of them pelicans, and hundreds of dead dolphins have washed up in recent weeks.

The alert did not shut down beaches, but local officials were warned to wear protective gear such as gloves and masks when handling the dead animals.

While initial examinations of the dolphins indicate their deaths may have been triggered by a virus — similar to an outbreak that occurred in Peru among marine animals in the past — the pelican deaths remain a mystery.

The Agriculture Ministry told the Reuters news agency that preliminary tests on some dead pelicans have indicated malnourishment. Oscar Dominguez, head of the ministry's health department, said experts had ruled out bird flu.

A similar mass death among pelicans along Peru’s coast in 1997 was blamed on a shortage of anchovies due to the El Nino weather phenomenon, which shifted shoals of anchovies away from the coastline.