PASS CHRISTIAN -- Wild at Heart Rescue released a rehabilitated pelican from a dock at Pass Christian Harbor on Wednesday to offer, in some way, some healing to a tragedy over the weekend involving another pelican.
According to a viral post on Facebook, a group of float riders Sunday threw Mardi Gras beads at a juvenile pelican until it became distressed and walked into traffic where it was hit and killed. It happened after the St. Paul's Carnival Association parade in Pass Christian, and the wildlife rescue organization has received 425 messages about it.
Two officers with the state Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks are investigating the bird's death, cooperating with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, because brown pelicans are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
That same federal protection covers the young brown pelican released Wednesday. That pelican, nicknamed Marty, had been at the rescue in Vancleave for about three weeks while healing from a cut to its throat pouch.
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The temperature was cold and the wind brisk at Kimball's seafood at the harbor, but Missy Dubuisson with Wild at Heart said the bird had been acclimated to the temperature.
She said Marty had been rescued from that area and needed to be released close to where he was found. But she also used the release as a symbol and offered praise that Pass Christian and state and federal officials were doing all they could to find out who killed the pelican at the parade.
On Wednesday, Marty seemed glad to be free of his cage. Greeted by a couple of mature pelicans that hang out near the docks, he spread his wings and scooted from the dock to a pier and then into the water. There he splashed around to season his wings for flight before taking off and flying a short distance.
"It's a happy ending for this pelican," Dubuisson said. "This little guy was able to come home today."
She said she hopes both incidents raise awareness about the protected status of pelicans.
There is a state hotline for anyone who sees a pelican or other migratory bird being chased, injured or harassed: 800-BE-SMART (237-6278).
In the case of the pelican Sunday, people leaving the parade posted on Facebook what they had witnessed.
Lt. Barry Delcambre, coastal supervisor with the state wildlife department, said social media has been a very helpful tool in this case and he encouraged anyone with pictures or video to call the hotline.
Delcambre said the first report came in to the Hancock County office and two officers -- one from Hancock County and one from Harrison County -- are working the case. The state agency went to the scene and picked up the dead bird as evidence.
He said officers worked the case on the holiday because they want to get interviews and evidence while it was fresh.
"We do have leads," Delcambre said, "and we're following them."
Dubuisson said she has forwarded video she received to law enforcement.
"Harassing a brown pelican or cruelty to one is illegal," he said. "We don't tolerate inhumane treatment to any animal making an animal suffer."
He said harassment of a pelican isn't strictly defined by the law, "but if you're steady throwing beads at it and chasing it, there's no doubt that's harassment."