Who Is Killing The Pelicans?

A 19th century oil painting called "Profile of the Bella Principessa", which some art experts believe a fingerprint proves to be the most recently identified work by Italian master Leonardo da Vinci.

Fishermen expect a swarm of pelicans as they return home with their catch. And on shore, the competition between them can get downright dirty. Still, people and pelicans usually co-exist peacefully:

"They are pretty cool looking birds, but, yeah, they bug us a little too much," one fisherman said.

But someone who' s more than bugged by the bird is mad enough to kill, reports CBS News Correspondent Sandra Hughes.

Since late last year, 14 California brown pelicans have been found murdered along the beach south of Los Angeles. Some have broken wings as well.

"We also found real obvious holes around the head and in the pouch that could very well be gunshot injuries," said Mark Russel of the International Bird Rescue Research Center.

Because El Nino has driven the pelicans' normal prey farther north, they're flying closer to shore and fishermen for food. Some suspect an irate fisherman's had enough of them interfering with his catch, but commercial fish processors say that's not so.

"Fishermen like pelicans, said Venessa DeLuca of the State Fish Company. "They're to them an indicator of fish in the ocean, so for a fisherman, a pelican is a friendly animal. They work together."

At the bird rescue center where they nurse injured birds back to health, they couldn't save the most recent two victims; found last week with slit pouches.

Said Jay Holcomb, director of the center, "Anybody that hurts an animal in my mind is a criminal. Or ignorant."

Ignorant, maybe -- but it is a crime. And because the birds are an endangered species -- their numbers decimated by the chemical DDT in the 1970's -- the feds have stepped in.

"The penalty for this is up to one year in custody in the federal system, and a $100,000 fine," U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service special agent Bruce Toloski told Hughes.

And although the pelicans have battled back and their numbers are increasing with almost 5,000 mating pairs roosting along the California coastline and as far south as Acapulco, this murder mystery comes at a bad time. The dead birds were all adults and it's the beginning of pelican mating season.