Long Beach aquarium’s penguins, lorikeets take cover after bird flu found in area

Penguins, lorikeets and shore birds at the Aquarium of the Pacific have been moved inside in attempt to protect them from Avian Influenza, commonly known as bird flu, which has been detected in the region.

The move took place Tuesday, according to aquarium spokesperson Claire Atkinson.

Those birds normally are in placed outdoors exhibits. But when the aquarium was notified the flu — often deadly to birds — had been detected in wild birds in Los Angeles County, the decision was make to take the birds behind the scenes, into enclosures with protective cover.

File photo: Three’s company for these Lorikeets at the Aquarium of the Pacific and one appears to be telling a secret, in Long Beach on Wednesday, December 1, 2021. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press-Telegram/SCNG)

That means the Lorikeet Forest, June Keyes Penguin Habitat and Shorebird Sanctuary exhibits will remain closed until bird flu is no longer present in the region, she said.

This move has been expected for some time, according to Brett Long, the aquarium’s curator of birds and animals.

“This is one we’ve been planning for since the beginning of the year,” Long said in a Tuesday interview. “We’ve been watching it (the bird flu) as it came from the east to the west.

“We’ve had this protocol in place for years,” he added. “We’ve been increasing preparations, but this is the first time we’ve made this move.”

This strain, known as H5N1, poses very low risk to humans, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Bird flu has been known to spread from wild birds to domestic flocks of chickens and turkeys, though, and farmers have destroyed entire flocks to stop the disease from spreading.

Long said the danger to the aquarium birds is from infected wild birds flying over the enclosures and material or feces dropping inside or, in the case of the penguins, birds landing in the habitat. Before the end of the week, all of the aquarium birds will be under cover, he said.

“The point is to keep wild birds from flying into or over the birds,” Long said. “We have one space (in the Lorikeet Forest exhibit) that’s covered. The penguin habitat is the most accessible; they are flightless birds, so there is no netting.”

One building behind the shark habitat, called the barn, has three “flights” for birds. That’s where most of the lorikeets are being moved. Another fenced area behind the scenes has a pad system of pools normally used for aquatic animals. It has been covered and will house the penguins.

There are about 80 lorikeets, 20 penguins and 12-15 shore birds at the aquarium that typically are kept outside and will be moved or confined to covered enclosures. The inside exhibit of diving birds — puffins and auklets — won’t be impacted beyond some enhanced hygiene protocols for handlers, Long said.

Long said there have been a few cases of the H5N1 flu infecting harbor seals on the East Coast, and the aquarium will closely monitor the seal and sea lion habitat. There has not been any indication aquatic animals and fish are susceptible, he added.

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“We don’t know exactly how long this will take,” Long said. “We will be following state and federal guidelines. It’s been 100 to 120 days after the last reported case in the past, but it is sort of a moving target.

“In our current comfort zone,” he added, “I’m expecting it to be a five- or six-month process.”

Kelly Colopy, director of the Long Beach Health and Human Services Department, said before noon Tuesday that her department is gathering information to advise the public.