Just as the San Francisco Bay spill response winds down, IBRRC is now busy again treating hundreds of oiled and sick birds washing ashore in Monterey Bay affected by an odd oily substance.
About 613 birds have been rescued and at least 300 are being treated at the Cordelia bird center. The incident seems be caused by a naturally occurring red tide or algae bloom in the bay waters from Marina Beach north to Santa Cruz.
The mysterious oily substance on birds was first thought to be a man-made spill. However, Dave Jessup, a California State Fish and Game senior veterinarian, says birds that turned up sick or dead weren’t killed by the San Francisco Bay oil spill or aerial spraying to eradicate the light brown apple moth.
“At this point we believe it’s related to the algae blooms,” Jessup said.
Red tide is a catchall phrase describing seawater with microscopic organisms that blooms causing it to change colors. What causes this is open to speculation: It could be weather pattern changes, fertilizer runoff after a hard rain, or a higher exposure to sunlight.
The part of the bloom sickening seabirds is a a water-soluble protein called a “surfactant.” It foams when it comes in contact with water, but state officials are still trying to determine the protein’s source.
Because the seabirds were not sickened by an oil spill or other human-caused incident, the Department of Fish and Game halted its bird rescue efforts November 27. Later this week on November 29, Fish and Game reactivated the spill response. Members of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN), veterinarians from UC Davis and IBRRC’s experienced wildlife rehabilitation staff are now working on the spill.
The spill was dubbed the “Moss Landing Mystery Spill” because a large number of birds first beached themselves near Moss Landing Harbor in Monterey Bay.
As a non-profit, IBRRC is asking for public donations to offset the high cost of treating these birds. Donate Now
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.
A total of 317 cleaned birds have been released back in the wild.
As of November 29, 1,060 oiled birds arrived live to the bird center in Cordelia. The last bunch of birds are in rehabilitation pools getting ready for release. At least 573 died or were euthanized at the center after being oiled in the November 7th spill on San Francisco Bay.
Nearly 1,700 dead birds have been collected in the field.
The makeshift bird rescue center at the Berkeley Marina setup days after the San Francisco Bay oil spill was closed on Monday.
The Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN) moved all the operations to the International Bird Rescue and Research Center (IBRRC) in Cordelia.
Hundreds of oiled birds were collected and stabilized at the temporary rescue center after the Cosco Busan crashed into the Bay Bridge on November 7th. The container ship spilled 58,000 gallons of bunker fuel into the bay.
The rescued birds were driven some 35 miles to the Cordelia center for treatment. That oiled wildlife center is 10,000 square feet and features state-of-the-art petroleum wash bays and pools to help rehabilitate birds. It opened in 2001 and is co-managed by IBRRC and OWCN.
You can still report an oiled bird sighting: 415-701-2311
…Bird experts figure that for every bird found dead or alive, about five to 10 others go unreported because they sink at sea, get eaten by predators or fly elsewhere. That would put the fatality number at up to 21,500 birds.
Species most often found covered in oil (In order of impact) 1. Surf scoter 2. Western grebe 3. Eared grebe 4. Greater scaup 5. Horned grebe 6. Ruddy duck 7. Common murre 8. Common loon 9. Lesser scaup 10. Clark’s grebe
Dead oiled birds (In order of impact) 1. Surf scoter 2. Western grebe 3. Common murre 4. Western or Clark’s grebe* 5. Brandt’s cormorant 6. Greater scaup 7. Eared grebe 8. Double-crested cormorant 9. Northern fulmar 10. Western gull * Hybrid category was created because in some circumstances it is impossible to determine type of grebe
More than 231 cleaned birds have been released back in the wild. Birds are being set free at Heart’s Desire Beach in Tomales Bay. This at the Point Reyes National Seashore area about 40 miles north of San Francisco.
As of November 26, 1,060 oiled birds arrived live to the bird center in Cordelia. A total of 782 have been washed of oil.
At least 1,693 dead birds have been collected in the field.
The Cosco Busan oil spill is nearly three weeks old. Crews are still searching for oiled animals and exorcising oil from beaches and rocks. If you’re curious where the oil is being reported and where crews are working in San Francisco Bay, see the Unified Command’s online map.
From Letters to the Editor, San Francisco Chronicle:
I work on Alcatraz Island. The ferry ride to and from work is a beautiful one. The oil from the Cosco Busan spill no longer fills the water in every direction, though the south side of Alcatraz still reeks of diesel fuel. News of the disaster no longer dominates the front page of the paper. As the days go by, the most vivid indication of our loss is the empty sky.
Gone are the long lines of cormorants flying fast across the bay, close to the water; gone the great squadrons of pelicans traversing the shoreline at sunset; gone the pigeon guillemots who fished the east side of Alcatraz and gone the little bird that hopped about the tide pools on the south side, whose name I had yet to learn. The gulls, so hardy and tough, are fewer, and many have oil spots on them.
I will never know which of these missing birds are among the thousands who died, or the hundreds who have survived thanks to the heroic efforts of volunteers and the Oiled Wildlife Care Network. I only know that they are gone. I am writing to say goodbye.
If any oil spill can have a silver lining, it’s this: There’s an incredible amount of caring, dedicated people in California trying their best to look after the animals harmed during this tragedy.
Nearly EVERY organization in the 25 member Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN) sent staff and volunteers to work on this spill. They joined up with vets from UC Davis to access, wash, fortify, hydrate and care for the hundreds of birds that flowed into the International Bird Rescue and Research Center in Cordelia, CA. Other volunteers stepped up to transport oiled birds to the center and still more have been in the field to directing search and collection crews to more oiled avian victims.
The public has been moved to action with time, money and other donations. A resourceful fourth grader from Berkeley, Haley Gee, pleading for money to help the birds, captured people’s sentiment exactly: “Mother nature is sick. We need to help her. So do something!”
As volunteers and staff continue to work with determination this Thanksgiving Day. They’re readying birds for an upcoming release at Point Reyes. So far, over 120 birds have completed the rehabilitation cycle and have been set free; more are scheduled this week.
This is not easy work. Many oiled birds have died in the field and others have succumbed in treatment. It’s a race against time and circumstance and sometimes the outcome is less than desired. But most wildlife rescue folks don’t give up easily.
Government bureaucracies are not always on the side of helping slow spreading oil slicks or quickly helping endangered animals, but the clear fact is that we work with what we have and learn from mistakes made.
Pontificating politicians don’t provide much solace. But if the people of the Bay Area are any indication, this spill will galvanize spirit, resolve and resources to work on making sure the next time oil darkens these local waters, and it will, the response will be swifter and better thought out.
That’s a silver lining we should work toward and hopefully in the end, find greater thanks.
In addition to responding to oil spills around the world, International Bird Rescue staff work to care for birds impacted by lesser known threats like natural oil seeps under the ocean, algal blooms, marine debris, and extreme weather. We use this blog to share stories from the field and from the two California-based bird rescue centers we manage. We hope you enjoy this window into our world—we are truly passionate about caring for birds, and know that our community shares this passion. We could not do this important work without your ongoing support!