The beauty and birdlife along the northeast coast of Maui is being tested again, this time by a likely suspect of loose dogs in Waihee Refuge. Officials recently found Wedge-tailed Shearwaters killed by predators who decimated the entire population of the seabirds.
The indigenous dusky brown birds are among the most common Hawaiian seabirds. The wailing sound made by these birds called from their burrows at night inspired the Hawaiian name, “uau kani” which means “calling or moaning petrel.” The birds are important to the island’s ecosystem as they help bring nutrients from the sea back to the land.
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.
…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.
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!