From: Matt Simon via
Published August 8, 2016 04:40 PM

A Troubling Snag in the Comeback of the California Condor

IN THE EARLY ’80s, the California condor almost scavenged its way to extinction. The grisly-looking birds survive off the remains of animals, often leftovers shot by hunters. But those hunters often used lead ammunition. Condors were dying of lead poisoning, their numbers dropping as low as 22.

In one of conservation’s greatest success stories, a frantic captive breeding program brought the huge, glorious scavenger roaring back; today, the condors number close to 450, over half of which are wild. While an outright ban on lead ammunition won’t kick in until 2019, aggressive public education has helped safeguard the species—inland at least. But scientists have found a new threat to the reestablished condors: extremely high levels of mercury and the pesticide DDT in the birds’ blood. This time, it’s an appetite for marine mammal flesh that may threaten the condor.

A new study out today in the journal Environmental Science and Technology highlights the problem’s source: the tainted waters near the Channel Islands in Southern California. Sea lions from up and down the West Coast gather to breed here, where several companies expelled astounding amounts of DDT from the ’40s to the ‘70s. One charming little outfit called Montrose Chemical Corporation alone discharged 2,000 tons of the stuff.

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Image: California Condor via NPS Photo/Eric Newmark

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