Every Bird Matters
news and views from international bird rescue

Archive for March 2011

March 22, 2011

Catastrophic South Atlantic Oil Spill Threatens Endangered Rockhopper Penguins

Hello everyone,

There has been a catastrophic oil spill on a remote island in the mid-South Atlantic Ocean that is threatening an entire colony of endangered Northern Rockhopper Penguins.

The MS Oliva ran aground on Nightingale Island, one of three islands of the Tristan da Cunha group, on March 16, 2011. All 22 crew were rescued before the ship broke up and leaked oil into the sea. The freighter was shipping soya beans from Rio de Janeiro to Singapore. It is said to be also carrying 1,650 tons of heavy crude oil.

Nightingale Island is regarded as one of the world’s most important wildlife habitats. The island is home to 40% of the world’s population of Northern Rockhopper Penguins (photo, above), and about 20,000 have already been confirmed oiled.

There are species of albatross, petrels and shearwaters that nest on these islands. However, all of the reports of oiled birds have been about the penguins. The likely reason for this is that many of the flighted bird species fly out to sea before landing on water, thereby avoiding the oil along the coastline. Since the penguins are not flighted, they have to swim through it to get to the islands, making them the most vulnerable and highly impacted.

IBRRC’s colleagues at The Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) are leading bird rescue and rehabilitation efforts and will soon be en-route. You may remember that IBRRC has worked with SANCCOB in four different oil spills in Cape Town, South Africa. Most notably, in the Apollo Sea oil spill in 1995 we helped care for 10,000 oiled African Penguins, and during the 2000 Treasure oil spill we helped manage the rehabilitation of another 20,000.


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According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the current Northern Rockhopper Penguin population in the Tristan da Cunha island group is estimated 18-27,000 at Inaccessible Island, 3,200-4,500 at Tristan. Nightingale and Middle Islands were estimated to support 125,000 pairs in the 1970s, but recent observations suggest that the main colony on Nightingale has decreased in size.

Logistics are difficult at best. An old fishing factory will be used as a rehab center. There is limited water, and no airport, so supplies are either air-dropped there or are brought by ship every few months or so. All people must arrive by ship, and it takes 4 days to get there from Cape Town, South Africa. Many of the birds have been oiled for over a week, which limits their chances of survival. The birds cannot be removed from the islands and brought to the mainland due to disease transmission concerns.

IBRRC has been in touch with SANCCOB and, along with other leading international wildlife groups, is providing support by phone as their team prepares to mobilize. SANCCOB’s team will be arriving at the islands on Sunday, March 27th, and has asked IBRRC’s trained and experienced team to be prepared to offer support. There are 300 people living on Tristan Island, and 100 of them are available to help with the penguins.

This is a truly grave situation for the Rockhopper Penguin colony and the ultimate challenge for wildlife rehabilitators. SANCCOB is the most experienced penguin rehabilitation organization in the world and we have full confidence in their ability to set up the best possible program for these birds. IBRRC’s team is coming together, and will send help when asked, and continue to support the SANCCOB team as needed. We will keep you updated as we receive information.

Jay Holcomb

Director Emeritus
International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC)

More information:

Atlantic oil spill threatens endangered penguins:
Seattle Times

Locals helping roundup penguins on Nightingale Island

Tristan da Cunha, the Loneliest Island on Earth

Photo: Northern Rockhopper Penguin at Berlin Zoological Garden, Germany, used by via Creative Commons

March 7, 2011

Natural Seep Oiled Birds Continue to Flood IBRRC

At the end of January, International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC) reported that nearly 50 oiled birds had been brought in for care after being coated with oil in a natural seep event along the Southern California coast. Since then, more than 64 new birds severely impacted by this heavy, sticky oil have arrived in our Los Angeles area rehabilitation clinic – 41 of them since February 22.

Species include many Western and Clark’s Grebes, Common Murres, Pacific Loons, California Gulls, Western Gulls, Red-throated Loons, a Northern Fulmar and a Common Loon.

Oil seeps occur naturally all along the coast of California, notably in the Santa Barbara Channel near Coal Oil Point. This area emits about 5,280 to 6,600 gallons of oil per day. Oil can be lethally harmful to seabirds—particularly to diving birds that spend a great deal of time on the surface of the water where the oil sits. It interferes with the birds’ ability to maintain their body temperature by impairing the natural insulation and waterproofing properties of their feathers, which can result in hypothermia, as their metabolisms try to combat the cold. Oiled birds often beach themselves in this weakened state, and become easy prey for other animals.

Preparing for Natural Seep Oiled Birds

IBRRC knows, from 40 years of experience, to anticipate these birds every year, with the largest number coming in during the winter months. This year, however, has been a particularly challenging one, as severe storms move seep oil around at a time when large numbers of migratory birds are utilizing offshore areas as their feeding grounds.

Who pays for their care?

In the case of a natural event, there is no responsible party to cover the costs of caring for oiled wildlife, and IBRRC and other rehabilitation organizations rely heavily on the public’s help. California’s Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN) has generously provided some funding, yet the remaining costs to treat and care for these birds continues to grow as more oil disperses along the coast.

Please consider making a donation today. Every bird matters, and so does every gift.

March 6, 2011

Coming in April: HBO’s "Saving Pelican 895"

Next month HBO’s documentary Saving Pelican 895 will debut on cable. Its directed by Oscar nominee and Peabody winner Irene Taylor Brodsky (HBO’s “The Final Inch” and “Hear and Now”).

The movie tells the gripping story of the rescue of a Brown Pelican “LA 895,” one of the many oiled bird victims of the 2010 BP Gulf oil spill, cared by International Bird Rescue and Tri-State Bird Rescue response members at the Fort Jackson Oiled Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Venice, Louisiana.

The film features interviews with IBRRC staff and follows the pelican from capture to treatment to its relase back to the wild.

We’ll keep you updated on exact April 2011 viewing times.

March 5, 2011

Gulf Spill: Working Together for Wildlife Award

Emergency response teams from International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC) and three other wildlife organizations have received national recognition for collaborative care of oiled animals during the 2010 Gulf Oil Spill.

The Marlys J. Bulander Working Together for Wildlife Award was presented to IBRRC, Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research, Louisiana State Animal Response Team (LSART) and the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine. The announcement was made at the annual National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association (NWRA) meeting in Albany, New York.

This award is given to those who have brought together individuals, organizations, rehabilitation facilities, and agencies in a cooperative effort to make a positive difference for wildlife.

The four organizations joined forces to care for the thousands of birds and other animals affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in April 2010 off the coast of Louisiana. Together they built, organized and ran four oiled bird rehabilitation centers – the first in Ft. Jackson, Louisiana and second in Hammond, LA. The others were set up in Alabama and Mississippi. They also helped manage oiled wildlife stabilization sites at Grand Isle, Venice, and Intra-Coastal City, LA.

IBRRC had about 90 members of its response team helping in four states in the Gulf of Mexico region. This collaborative effort has led to the release of 1,170 birds to date.

NWRA judges praised the speed and purpose with which the teams responded to the largest oil spill in United States history, as more than 200 million gallons of crude spilled from a ruptured drilling rig 45 miles off the Louisiana coast.

IBRRC is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, and is a world leader in oiled wildlife emergency response, rehabilitation, research and education. Its team of specialists has led rescue efforts in over 200 oil spills in 11 States, two U.S. territories, and 7 different countries.

IBRRC is equally proud of the care it provides to the more than 5,000 injured, hungry, or orphaned birds that come into its two California wildlife care centers each year. It is committed to ensuring that every bird impacted by changes to their environment is given hope to survive and thrive.