Rogers says she has a theory that points to commercial fishermen. "The pelicans are coming up with these injuries only when commercial fishermen are active," she said. Pelicans, especially the young and less wise, are attracted to what they would consider a buffet—the deck of a fishing boat. Rogers says this is when the brutalities are probably occurring. O'Neil agrees that the birds are being injured and killed out on the ocean and not on land.
"I could see somebody keeping a box of heads or feet," said O'Neil, who suspects the perpetrators may be keeping trophies.
"Our local fishermen are not doing this," Rogers said. Since most of the carcasses and injured birds seem to be coming from farther up the coast, Rogers points to Moorhead City. She said a lot of new fishermen have come up to North Carolina in 2010 from the Gulf, where they had been losing money ever since the BP oil spill.