Every Bird Matters
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Archive for April 2005

April 30, 2005

2005 – Selendang Ayu – Alaska

Learning from Alaska

Severe weather, remote location hamper work in worst spill since Exxon Valdez
The search for oiled animals was called off in early January 2005 after most of 470,000 gallons of oil leaked from a grounded freighter into the waters off Unalaska Island. Members of the IBRRC response team were able to collect 29 birds – even though severe winter weather and the remote location hampered the search and collection of oiled animals. A stranded Malaysian cargo ship that lost power on December 8, 2004, still sits in shallow water in the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. The vessel has been there since it lost power and broke in half on its way to China from Tacoma, Washington with a cargo of 60,000 tons of soybeans. Oil not the only mess left by freighter According to Incident Command reports, more than 1,500 birds and five otters have found dead. Several hundred more live oiled birds were spotted, but proved to unreachable because of the remote Bering Sea location.

Totals as of Feb 2, 2005

  • Captured – 29
  • Cleaned and Released – 10
  • Died – 19 Birds, 6 Mammals
  • Carcasses – 1,503 Birds, 6 Mammals

Various experts have called the spill the worst since the disastrous 1989 Exxon Valdez spill that dumped 11 million gallons into the Prince William Sound. The ship ran aground near Valdez on Bligh Reef at 12:04 am March 24, 1989. More info on the Valdez spill
In an attempt to prevent similar accidents in the future, a new coalition of business and conservation interests announced the formation of a Shipping Safety Partnership (SSP). The oiled birds collected, included Common Murres, Crested Auklets, Horned-grebes, Pelagic Cormorants and a Long-tailed Duck. Some members of IBRRC’s oil spill reponse team left Alaska and traveled directly to a broken pipeline oil spill near Veracruz in the Gulf of Mexico.

To study the impact of the spill on shorebirds, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) released 162 bird size blocks of wood from the grounding site the second week in January 2005. The blocks will help determine where dead birds might have drifted, said Catherine Berg, an oil spill response coordinator with the USFWS. The agency is asking that people report any ocean sightings and return any blocks found on shore.

“We’re trying to get a feel for what we may have missed,” Berg said. “It’s just not possible to search every beach where carcasses come ashore and even if could, we’d still be competing with animals that prey on oiled birds, like foxes, eagles, gulls and rats.”

At the mercy of the weather

For three weeks the weather proved to be a frustrating waiting game for IBBRC and others on scene. The cleanup and search for oiled animals was stalled by strong winds, rough seas and the remoteness of the spill. Adding to concerns: Only five hours of daylight in this area of Alaska in winter.

“We are at the mercy of the weather,” said Jay Holcomb, Executive Director of the California-based IBRRC. “As soon as there’s an opening in the storms we’ll assist wildlife officials in assessing and capturing any oiled wildlife we can find.” Holcomb said. “But it has to be safe enough for our team members to access the impacted areas.” When live birds were rescued, they were stabilized for a day or two in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. Then the oiled birds were flown to Anchorage for treatment at IBRRC-managed Alaska Wildlife Response Center (AWRC). The AWRC is an adapted warehouse that was developed after the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989. It is funded by the petroleum industry. Federal law requires that any oil spill response team include wildlife handlers. In past spills, animals have been hazed to keep them out of oil and IBRRC has captured and removed healthy animals to keep them clean.

Tar balls from the spill were reported on shore as far north as Makushin Bay, about 10 miles from the spill site. Oil was also spotted in Skan Bay, drifting north from the wreckage.
According to a federal hazardous materials fact sheet, the type of bunker oil on the ship is “a dense, viscous oil … (that) usually spreads into thick, dark colored slicks” when it is spilled on water.

Biologists are worried that the spill from the vessel could threaten Steller sea lions, sea otters, harbor seals and seabirds foraging in bays along the island’s west coast. This spill was not only a tragedy for wildlife but for people as well. A Coast Guard helicopter crashed trying to rescue crew members from the grounded freighter. Six people were lost at sea in the 43-degree water; the four Coast Guard members onboard survived.
The internationally recognized IBRRC has responded to more than 200 spills since its formation in 1971. On this spill, the bird rescue group is working with the oil spill response co-op Alaska Chadux Corporation.

April 30, 2005

2005 – Mystery Spill – Ventura, CA

Mystery spill leaves oily wake in Southern California

More than 1,400 birds, mainly Western Grebes, came into the San Pedro, CA center after an oil slick first struck along the Ventura and Los Angeles County coastline on January 13, 2005. As late as April 2005, a couple dozen oil covered birds were still showing up sporadically in need of attention.

A little more than 200 birds were released back into the wild. At least 300 of the birds brought to the center died or had to be euthanized.
This was the first major test of the Los Angeles area bird center. The permanent facility was built with state funds and opened in March of 2001. IBRRC manages the center for the Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN). It operates a year-round rehabilitation program for sick and injured birds. A small dedicated staff and a large contingent of local volunteers help make the non-profit San Pedro center a valuable contribution to the local wildlife community.
The spill proved to be a stubborn mess. State Fish and Game authorities are still trying to determine the source of the oil. Early reports tied the oil in the water to the disastrous mudslide that struck the La Conchita area on January 11, 2005. The spill was originally called the Ventura mystery spill.

Feather samples from oiled birds have ruled out other sources of oil, primarily oil from platforms off Ventura and Santa Barbara coastlines. Officials think the oil may have come from a broken pipeline onshore. But that has yet to be determined. Some wildlife experts believe that a total of 3,000 to 5,000 birds will ultimately be affected by the spill. It’s the largest California spill in 15 years in terms of bird injuries and deaths. The area that was affected stretched from Santa Barbara to Playa del Rey – some 80+ miles of coastline.

The birds most affected in this spill were Clark’s Grebes, Western Grebes and Common Loons. These are mostly species that float or raft off shore where the concentration of oil seems to be heaviest. Birds that get oiled and don’t get treated quickly – face a certain death. Without attention, birds cannot thermo-regulate and usually die within days.

After birds are captured and stabilized, they are transported to the nearest full-time rehabilitation center. In this spill it is the San Pedro bird center for treatment. State officials warned the public not to approach the oiled birds, pointing out that grebes have particularly sharp beaks. They are advising people who came across the birds to call (562) 342-7222.

If you do catch the birds please put them in a big box with air holes and a towel at the bottom.

About the IBRRC/OWCN partnership:

The International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC) plays two major roles within the Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN). First, IBRRC acts as the lead oiled bird response organization that, under the management of the OWCN, responds to most of the oil spills that affect birds, reptiles and fresh water aquatic mammals in California. Secondly, IBRRC is contracted to develop and teach a series of annual trainings for OWCN participants. These trainings are designed to familiarize members with concepts in oiled wildlife capture and rehabilitation.