June 6, 2010

More Birds Being Affected By Spill

The spreading oil slick from the Deepwater Horizon explosion on April 20 has put many more birds in danger over the past few days.

On Thursday, 53 oiled-slicked birds arrived at the Fort Jackson rescue center, including 29 pelicans; 13 more followed by Friday afternoon.  The center had previously received one to four birds a day since the explosion that took place six weeks ago.

Rescuers are now racing against time in order to remove the birds from the growing environmental disaster.

The crude has been pushed into the lagoons as growing winds sweep the oceans.  Queens Bess Islands, a brown pelican sanctuary in Barataria Bay, was among the worst hit.

About 60 birds have been trapped by the oil slick, including 41 brown pelicans.  The birds were reintroduced into the bay in 1968, after coming close to extinction.

The birds can hardly move once they are coated with the oil. 

"I saw one getting oiled yesterday," Ross Barkhurst, a 37-year-old fisherman who ferried a BP crew in his boat, told AFP news.

"There was a torrent duck, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) inside a marsh, trying to escape from the slick. Then a pelican grabbed it, and it got stuck. It just thought it was food," Barkhurst added.

"Yesterday was the worst I had seen it. There was grass with oil all over," he added.

"The main problem for us is the wind that pushes the oil on the surface," International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC) employee Jay Holcomb, standing among a flock of rescued birds in an air-conditioned hangar in Fort Jackson, told AFP.

About 20 specialists are committed to the task of scrubbing each pelican clean.

"It's a difficult kind of oil," Holcomb said. "It takes a lot of scrubbing."

Sharon Taylor, a veterinarian with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services told AFP that the pelicans, seagulls and egrets are "stabilized."

She said that most of the oil stuck on the feathers is carefully removed with a towel.

Taylor said that each bird is fitted with a flexible, plastic tube full of water inside its beak.  It is left there for a couple days to help the animals rehydrate.

The bird is then washed in warm water and detergent after the fitting.  Afterwards, the bird is dried and allowed to rest for four to seven days.

The birds eventually then get released back into the wild if everything goes well.

The survival rate of oiled birds in Fort Jackson is 50-70 percent.  Many die because of stress that the oil causes.

However, veterinarian Heather Nevill told AFP that the 53 birds that arrived on Thursday were still alive Friday.

She hopes that after several weeks in ocean water the crude will have lost most of its toxicity through evaporation.

"The oil is fairly weathered. The animals don't smell too much of oil," Nevill said.

Taylor said that the long-term effects from the mixture of crude oil and chemical dispersants BP is using to break it up is another threat.

"It could have an impact with the future breeding season," she said.


Image Caption: A pelican swims in a make-shift pool after being cleaned of oil at the Clean Gulf Associates Mobile Wildlife Rehabilitation Station on Fort Jackson in Plaquemine, La., May 13. The station stood up to provide support for animals that may have been affected by the oil spill caused by the April 20 explosion on the Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit Deepwater Horizon. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class(SW) Jeffery Tilghman Williams)


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