American Trader Oil Spill Survivor: Pelican Found Alive 19 Years Later
Note: On Feburary 7, 1990 the oil tanker American Trader, just a mile off Huntington Beach, CA, ran over its own anchor, puncturing its hull. It leaked 400,000 gallons of crude into marine waters causing the death of thousands of seabirds. The spill cleanup forced a the three-week closure of 15 miles of Orange County coastline.
Dear friends and supporters,
We want to share with you some exciting news about a pelican that was spotted last month in Southern California. The Brown Pelican was one of many that IBRRC rehabilitated in 1990 during the American Trader oil spill in Huntington Beach, CA. This rare and invaluable band encounter and live bird sighting was observed September 27th, 2009 in Long Beach, CA.
What was also significant was that this was an adult pelican when we originally received it for washing and rehabilitation which means that the bird was at least 4 years old at the time. This means that the bird is now over 23 years old and one of the oldest rehabilitated oiled birds on record. It was also one of the birds that was used in a post release study done during that oil spill where 31 of the rehabilitated brown pelicans were fitted with radio transmitters on their backs.
Below are excerpts from an email sent to us by brown pelican biologist and authority, Dan Anderson, regarding this exciting sighting:
Well folks, the pelican 609-11405 was indeed a REHABILITATED individual released with one of our radios on it, released by IBRRC at Terminal Island on 26 February 1990. Thus, it was a 19-year survivor from getting oiled and then cleaned by IBRRC, and at least 23 years old when Robb picked up on it (likely older). Congratulations Jay on the REHAB success! It was a full adult when oiled (therefore at least 4+ years old) and at the time of banding and likely a medium-sized male, but in very good condition at release (4.8 kg = “huge” and fat), 35.5 cm culmen. Its IBRRC number was R-318. Overall results were reported in our 1996 paper and this bird was considered still-alive at the end of the study. Obviously, it went on to become quite successful, at least in surviving.
On longevity, this is an oldie, although Frank and I have an unpublished account of an Anacapa individual that survived more than 40 years. It’s a complex story, however, and we haven’t written anything up yet. I also collected an 18+ year old on one of the colonies (San Lorenzo Sur) in the early-1980s that had been one of three birds caught one night at the Farallon Islands in CA. Given the something like 20,000 BRPE banded by Frank Gress and I over the years,we will start looking at BRPE demographics in the future. I think we have been at it long enough now to be able to develop some life-tables (also working on some alternative techniques to compare to banding studies). Lots to do and so little time.
– Dan Anderson, Professor Emeritus, Wildlife Biologist, UC Davis 10/20/09
For many years IBRRC and our colleagues in the field of oiled wildlife rehabilitation and response have studied the post survival of oiled birds that have been rehabilitated. More and more studies are being done now but one of the ways that we have consistently, although sporadically, received information about released oiled birds is when we receive leg band encounters. All oiled, rehabilitated birds are federally banded upon release.
Found a banded Pelican? Report it through the Bird Rescue website
Thanks for your continued support,
Jay Holcomb, Executive Director, IBRRC