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Fish thieves hit Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary

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Published Mar. 16, 2013

INDIAN SHORES — Bad news keeps coming for the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary.

Someone broke into the sanctuary, at 18328 Gulf Blvd., the night of March 7 and took about 100 pounds of fish from the organization's bait hut. It appears, operations manager Micki Eslick said, that whoever broke in had a key.

Indian Shores police say they have closed the case because they have no leads and no suspects.

The sanctuary, founded in 1971 by zoologist Ralph Heath, has in the past claimed to be the largest nonprofit wild bird hospital in the United States, with emergency facilities, a surgical center, and indoor and outdoor rehabilitation areas.

But finances have been periodically rocky for the organization and have become desperate in the past couple of years.

Last year, the federal government filed three liens totaling about $186,726 for unpaid payroll taxes. That seemed to unleash a tsunami of problems that include a finding by the U.S. Department of Labor that the sanctuary had left some employees unpaid for weeks. The sanctuary agreed to pay $21,336 in back wages.

This year, a mortgage holder filed notice that he plans to foreclose on a sanctuary-owned warehouse on Starkey Road. And the state filed a tax lien of about $7,684 for failure to pay unemployment taxes.

The sanctuary announced at the end of January that it could no longer take in sick and injured birds, but that it intended to stay open.

The sanctuary closed its hospital but remains open for tours. Eslick said the sanctuary is trying to raise funds to recover.

Anne Lindberg can be reached at or (727) 893-8450.