The following is a guest blog by Kelly Berry of International Bird Rescue. Even though the majority of animals that we had in care from the spill have been released, our colleagues at International Bird Rescue and SeaWorld have been hard at work caring for the remaining animals. Thank you for all the effort you have put into caring for the special cases that need a little more time before release! -Becky
When an oil spill occurs, the media rush in to meet the public’s desire to know what the environmental effects will be, putting forth iconic images of struggling wildlife and crude-covered habitats. They then go on to capture inspiring moments of cleanup efforts and successfully washed and saved animals. Unfortunately (and understandably), public interest wanes as the cleanup process draws down. The beaches are reopened for public use, and the majority of what the public sees has been neutralized. However, this is not the story’s end for wildlife rehabilitators and the affected wildlife that remain in care.
Hundreds of wildlife specialists across California are trained to rescue and rehabilitate wildlife affected by oil spills. Contaminated animals are rescued and transported to a wildlife hospital, where they are stabilized, washed to remove the oil, and treated for injuries. Sometimes removing the contaminant is not enough though; in fact, the crude very often masks secondary injuries and health problems. For example, the contaminant can render the animal’s primary defense against injury and harm—its hair, fur, or feathers—ineffective, leading to starvation, hypothermia, burns, and other wounds. The upshot is that animals impacted by oil spills often must remain in care longer than expected.
The recent oil spill near Refugio State Beach impacted hundreds of native animals, primarily sea birds and marine mammals, with the California Brown Pelican being the most affected bird. Wildlife hospitals, such as International Bird Rescue, were tasked to treat the contaminated sea birds. Trained technicians, volunteers, and veterinary staff at Bird Rescue spent countless hours washing and restoring the patients to full health. By the time the oil spill cleanup was over, all but three of the rescued birds had been given a clean bill of health and released.
One of the three, a Ring-Billed Gull (number R56), was emaciated and dehydrated upon admission into care; in addition, its feathers were in such poor condition that it could not sustain flight. This gull, which took several days of supportive care just to recover its willingness to eat, is currently molting and doing laps in the Bird Rescue aviary as it grows strong enough to fly. The second bird, Brown Pelican W19, came into care completely coated in oil. After W19 was washed, staff found a chest abscess that required antibiotics and surgery. The abscess was surgically removed, and the bird completed a full course of antibiotics. Now fully healed and flying beautifully, W19 was released on August 18. And the final patient, Brown Pelican W1005, was covered in oil and had a foot infection from an unknown source. This bird has been washed, has undergone two surgeries, and remains on antibiotics. W1005’s prognosis is guarded, but Bird Rescue staff are working hard to ensure it gets all the care it needs.
For each individual wild animal, the traumatic physical effects of an oil spill end when it is returned home. International Bird Rescue, along with every diligent wildlife organization that makes up the Oiled Wildlife Care Network, holds one basic conviction for dealing with affected animals: Every individual matters. The collective goal in our community is to restore every animal to full health and release it back into the wild.