Every Bird Matters
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Posts Tagged ‘oiled birds’

June 20, 2010

2010 – Gulf spill response: FAQs

Oiled Pelicans before cleaning and after during 2010 Gulf Oil Spill

Oiled Pelicans before and after cleaning during wildlife response at 2010 Gulf Oil Spill.

From IBRRC’s Jay Holcomb, who is at the center of the BP Gulf oiled bird response in Louisiana:

We are almost into July and have just taken in our 600th bird here in Louisiana at the Fort Jackson Bird Rehabilitation Center. The majority of those birds have come into the center in the last 2 weeks when a section of oil was carried to shore near Grand Isle, LA and impacted many brown pelicans and other smaller bird species.


Cleaning oiled pelicans at the Fort Jackson Bird Rehabilitation Center.

Currently we have about 300 clean and beautiful brown pelicans outside in large cages getting ready for release. They are starting to be released today in groups and we will continue to release them twice a week until they are all gone. There are currently about 100 oiled pelicans in the building waiting to be washed and some smaller species of birds such as gulls and herons.

The heat here is very difficult to work in but everyone is doing well and moving the birds through the rehabilitation process. We have set up specific times for the media to come and film the birds and the work so that it limits the stress on people and animals. The media has been very cooperative with us.

I play a few roles here in Ft. Jackson and one is the External Affairs role that puts me in touch with the media and the world at large so I thought I would take this opportunity to answer some of the main questions that I am being asked daily.

Question: Where the pelicans are going to be released?

Answer: The pelicans are being flown to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. Will they come back to Louisiana? There is that possibility but the US Fish & Wildlife Service has determined that this is the best place to release them at this time. It is a long way from the spill so we are hoping that they stay in the area, at least for a while. The smaller inland birds are being released in the Sherburne Wildlife Management Area just north of Lafayette as they become ready.

Q: How long is IBRRC and Tri-State Bird Rescue going to be in the Gulf of Mexico helping care for the birds?

A: Well, as long as the oil is gushing from the earth and birds are at risk of getting oiled then we will be here.

Q: Is BP supporting your efforts to care for the oiled birds?

A: Yes, BP is the responsible party and is paying for all the costs associated with the care and rehabilitation of oiled birds. IBRRC and Tri-State Bird Rescue are hired to manage the rehabilitation program for the oiled birds from this spill so in actuality we are contractors for BP.

Q: What will the success rate be for oiled brown pelicans?

A: It’s impossible to predict the future but these are very healthy and strong birds and have a good chance at surviving the rehabilitation process. The majority of these birds are handling the stress of oiling, washing and rehabilitation extremely well, as expected. Over 300 of them have been cleaned and are in outside aviaries at this time getting ready for release. Brown pelicans typically have a high survival rate in oil spills when they are captured early on and given the appropriate care, as has happened here to date. I expect the majority of them to make it but time will tell and we will report on these birds as we move through the spill.

See also: Deepwater Horizon Gulf Oil Spill detailed wildlife reports

Q: How can people help or donate?

A: Well, as I have said before, we currently have plenty of help and are not in need of volunteers. As well as the Tri-State and IBRRC response teams, wildlife paraprofessionals from the Gulf Coast States are supplementing our workforce. In Louisiana, this is being coordinated by LSART (Louisiana State Animal Response Team).

Regarding donating to the cause, there are pelicans and thousands of other wild animals all over the country that need help and are cared for by wildlife rehabilitators. I urge everyone to locate their local wildlife rehabilitation organization and support them and their great work in helping our precious wildlife get a second chance at life. Check with your state department of Fish and Game and they can help you locate a worthy wildlife rehabilitation organization.

Beware of the NGO’s (non-governmental organizations) that claim they are raising money to help either restore the gulf or set up mass volunteer networks for spill response. Everyone wants a piece of this pie and a number of these groups who have never done much about oil spill response in the past are now asking for money, holding fundraising events, telethons etc. and using many tactics including celebrity endorsement and the media. They are opportunistic and take advantage of every oil spill or big disaster and I strongly urge you just to be cautious. Before you donate ask how and where your money will be spent before you give.

Again, the real unsung and under-funded heroes who help wildlife around this country are the wildlife rehabilitation organizations who work 24/7 to care for our precious wildlife. They are hands on, on the front lines and the results of their efforts can be witnessed every time they release a rehabilitated animal back into the wild. My strong suggestion is that you support these organizations if you really want to help wildlife!

Thanks for visiting our blog. I will be in touch soon with more news and to answer more questions and share more pictures.

– Jay Holcomb, Executive Director, IBRRC


International Bird Rescue Response Teams starting working in Gulf Coast within days of the Deepwater Horizon well blow out on April 20, 2010. With nearly 40 years of experience on more than 200 spills, IBRRC brings a wide variety of skills working with oiled wildlife.

Photo cleaning Roseate Spoonbill at Gulf Oil Spill in 2010 by International Bird Rescue

Response team members clean a Roseate Spoonbill of oil at Fort Jackson Center, Louisiana. Courtesy photo: © Brian Epstein

June 10, 2010

Post release survival of oil affected sea birds

From Jay Holcomb, IBRRC’s Executive Director:

Hi everyone. We are very busy here in Louisiana at the gulf oil spill, but doing well. We are washing the very oiled pelicans and other birds that you have seen on TV and most of them are doing very well. More on that aspect of our work later. I want to address a few issues that have come up in the media recently. First of all, let me say that this is the time during an oil spill that the skeptics come out. These “experts” are quoted and their opinions, no matter how ill researched or biased they are, become controversial and newsworthy. I spent much time during the Exxon Valdez oil spill, 21 years ago, and in every other oil spill since then addressing them and I now just consider this a part of the politics of an oil spill.

For those who are concerned about the survival rates of oiled birds, based on recent news coverage (or the outdated studies they cite), I’d like to address the topic head-on. I am writing from personal experience, as a veteran of more than 200 oil spills, and as a representative of one of the foremost oiled bird rescue and research organizations in the world. IBRRC and Tri-State Bird Rescue–who is leading the Gulf response effort–host a bi-annual conference on the Effects of Oil on Wildlife, and, as such, are well versed in the latest science. The “experts” that I am referring to rarely, if ever, attend this global forum for oiled wildlife professionals, nor do they attempt to learn about advancements and successes in oiled wildlife rehabilitation.

How well do birds survive in the wild when they have been oiled and rehabilitated?

Recent studies (a few of which are listed below) indicate that birds can be successfully rehabilitated and returned to the wild, where many survive for years and breed.

The papers cited by opponents of oiled bird rehabilitation—like Oregon’s biologist Brian Sharp’s infamous 1996 report “Post Release Survival of Oiled, Cleaned Seabirds in North America” Ibis. Vol. 138:222-228—tend to rely on anecdotal band returns (meaning there is no daily tracking method for individuals released and no control groups observed.) These surveys are misleading because they fail to consider some important variables: the protocols used to care for the birds in question, the experience of the organization caring for the oiled birds and basic things like how the bird’s health and water proofing were assessed prior to release.

Simply put, one would not lump together the survival rates of human patients receiving emergency trauma care between two hospitals like Mogadishu’s Madina Hospital and New York’s Bellevue Hospital. Yet surveys like Sharp’s do just that, they lump together released birds treated at various centers, under different conditions, with different resources and experience levels.

Studies support oiled, properly treated sea birds

A growing number of studies using radio telemetry, satellite tracking and long-term breeding colony observations are more accurately illustrating the post oiling survival of sea birds:

Wolfaardt, A.C. and D.C. Nel. 2003, Breeding Productivity and Annual cycle of Rehabilitated African Penguin Following Oiling. Rehabilitation of oiled African Penguins: A Conservation Success Story.

Newman, S.H., Golightly, R.T., H.R. Carter, E.N. Craig, and J.K. Mazet 2001, Post-Release Survival of Common Murres (Uria aalge) Following the Stuyvesant Oil Spill.

Golightly. R.T., S.H. Newman, E.N. Craig, H.R. Carter and J.K. Mazet. 2002, Survival and Behavior of Western Gulls Following Exposure to Oil and Rehabilitation.

Anderson, D.W., F. Gress, and D.M. Fry 1996, Survival and dispersal of oiled Brown Pelicans after rehabilitation and release.

These studies indicate that many seabirds do survive the oiling and rehabilitation process successfully returning to their wild condition. And in some cases (when birds are located and observed in breeding colonies) have been shown to breed successfully for many years following their oiling, rehabilitation and release. These studies show that a bird’s survival is often based on how a specific species can cope with the stress of the entire process from oiling to rehabilitation, and that their overall survivorship across species is far greater than Sharp’s assertions. As survivorship may be correlated to individual species it is irresponsible to draw conclusions of survivability from one species to another, rather, in depth studies must be conducted for each species considered if we are to begin to answer this question with any measure of reliability.

Pelicans handle stress better than most birds

In regards to pelicans specifically, IBRRC works year-round with brown pelicans at our two rescue centers in California, treating, on average, 500 injured, sick and oiled pelicans every year. Our release rate on these animals is 80% or higher for general rehabilitation. Pelicans, like penguins, can tolerate the stress of rehabilitation much better than birds like loons and murres for example. All of our birds (including pelicans) are federally tagged upon release. Sightings and band recoveries indicate that a high percentage of them survive. One recent example was a brown pelican, oiled and rehabilitated, during the American Trader spill in 1990 in Southern California. This bird was sighted still alive in Newport Beach earlier this year, 20 years on, and is considered one of the oldest brown pelicans ever recorded.

While this is just one bird it is a good example of the type of band returns we see from oiled and non-oiled pelicans. Of course it’s important to also remember that it is these individual birds that make up populations. At the ‘New Carissa’ oil spill in Oregon in 1999, the snowy plover population in Coos Bay was 30-45 birds. We captured 31 and rehabilitated all of them. They are an intensely studied bird and each one is considered valuable to the species. Studies of the birds showed that there was no difference in the mortality of these previously oiled birds to those never oiled.

What gives IBRRC, and Tri-State Bird Rescue, the best chance to make a difference to threatened species during oil spills is the year-round dedication to saving individual lives that has been at the heart of our mission for nearly 40 years. This approach has helped us to develop teams of trained animal care and oiled wildlife professionals that understand the intricacies of this specific field of rehabilitation and continually strive to improve our techniques as well as build a more comprehensive scientific picture of our work over time.

June 4, 2010

Distressed oiled birds emerge in worst U.S. spill

The images are haunting this week in the unabated BP Gulf oil leak as video and photos of heavily oil coated birds flash across the screen for all the world to see. (Above: CBS-TV News Video)

By Thursday afternoon still photographs taken by Charlie Riedel of the Associated Press showed images of multiple distressed seabirds caught in an oil slick on Louisiana’s East Grand Terre Island. See more: Boston.Com’s The Big Picture

For many these are the first horrific images they’ve seen; it surely will not be the last as the 6 week oil leak continues to spew crude in the Gulf Of Mexico.

May 2, 2010

Day 2 update: Gulf oil spill bird rescue

As the massive Gulf oil spill continues to evolve, IBRRC’s Executive Director Jay Holcomb is providing daily updates from center of the wildlife rescue operation.

(Photo above: Washing the first oiled bird, a Northern Gannet, at Fort Jackson, LA rescue center Photo: Courtesy of Les Stone)

Holcomb is heading the organization’s Gulf spill response team. He has responded to over 200 oil spills around the world, including Exxon Valdez and the 1979 Gulf spill. With him are a veterinarian, rehabilitation manager and capture specialist.

Here’s his Day 2 update:

In Fort Jackson today we washed the juvenile northern gannet found by one of the clean-up boats. It actually swam up to the boat so was really very lucky to survive. Its condition is stable and it will be going outside in a small pen with a pool tomorrow.

The first big press visit took place today with over 50 members of the media showing up. The International Bird Rescue and Tri-State Bird Rescue staff had decoys and demonstrated how bird-washing techniques. The media also got to see the Gannet being tube-fed.

We are in the process of getting more supplies and getting geared up. The shipment of Dawn arrived this morning from P & G. The center in Theodore, Alabama is also being set-up by Julie Skoglund and Duane Titus from IBRRC and Sarah Tagmire from Tri-State. We are also beginning to set-up centers in Mississippi and Florida in preparation for the potential of oil moving in that direction. (Photo above: Getting Fort Jackson rescue center setup)

The weather has been really windy and the water is choppy so crews haven’t been able to get out on boats to search for animals. Tomorrow there is an 80 percent chance of thundershowers so this might not be able to happen for a day or say.

Right now, preparation is still the name of the game. We will keep you posted.

– Jay Holcomb, IBRRC

A Team of California bird rescue specialists from International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC) are on site in Louisiana and Alabama preparing bird rescue centers to clean up seabirds caught in the Gulf coast oil spill. Working in partnership with Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research the rehabilitation facilities are in Fort Jackson, Louisiana (just north of Venice) and Theodore, Alabama.

Media are welcome to visit the Fort Jackson rescue center any day from 1pm to 2pm: MSRC, 100 Herbert Harvey Drive, Buras, LA.

The oil spill involves a ruptured drilling platform approximately 45 miles southeast of Venice, Louisiana. The drilling rig, Deepwater Horizon, exploded on April 20, 2010 and sank in 5,000 feet of water. More than 100 workers scrambled off the burning rig in lifeboats. 11 workers are missing and presumed dead.

Nine days later, the U.S. Coast Guard says a torrent of oil is five times larger than previous estimates. The leak is now gushing 5,000 barrels — or 210,000 gallons — of crude oil a day, not a 1,000 barrels that was originally reported. While engineers work feverishly to cap the well, some officials worry the leak could go on for months – potentially becoming a devastating spill of epic proportions.

Bird species at risk along the fragile gulf coast include Louisiana’s state bird, the brown pelican. Their breeding season has just started.

May 1, 2010

Gulf spill update: From oiled bird rescue center

A Team of California bird rescue specialists from International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC) are on site in Louisiana and Alabama preparing bird rescue centers to clean up seabirds caught in the Gulf coast oil spill.

International Bird Rescue is working in partnership with Tri-state Bird Rescue & Research to prepare rehabilitation facilities in Fort Jackson, Louisiana (just northof Venice) and Theodore, Alabama, near Mobile.

Media are welcome to visit the Fort Jackson rescue center any day from 1pm to 2pm: MSRC, 100 Herbert Harvey Drive, Buras, LA.

To date, rescue teams have recovered just one bird, a Northern Gannet, which is being treated in Venice and expected to recover fully. To learn more about oiled bird treatment, see Treatment of Oiled Birds and How oil affects birds.

Jay Holcomb, IBRRC’s Exceutive Director and oil spill veteran says preparation of rescue centers is key to the wildlife response.

“International Bird Rescue’s focus now is on preparing for the influx of oiled birds once the slick moves closer to the Gulf coast, where pelicans, egrets and terns nest and feed,” said Holcomb.

“Even after my 25 years responding to oil spills, it’s impossible to predict the kinds of impacts we might see to birds—it all depends on the tides, weather, and other factors beyond our control,” Holcomb said.

“Rather than waste time with conjecture, we are spending our days preparing for any eventuality, and it’s great to have such an outpouring of support from all over the country. This truly is an all hands on deck effort, and we are grateful to have the opportunity to work alongside Tri-State Bird Rescue and other groups,” said Holcomb.

“So far, we have only rescued one oiled bird, a Northern Gannet that is being treated at the Venice facility.” said Holcomb. “The bird is in a stable condition.”

IBRRC’s Holcomb is heading the organization’s Gulf spill response team. Holcomb has responded to over 200 oil spills around the world, including Exxon Valdez and the 1979 Gulf spill. With him are a veterinarian, rehabilitation manager and capture specialist.

International Bird Rescue will be hosting a daily teleconference once the rehabilitation center set-up is complete. For up to the minute updates on bird rescue efforts in the Gulf, follow @IBRRC on Twitter.

November 12, 2009

2009 – Dubai Star – San Francisco, CA

Ten birds were released by OWCN personnel and volunteers back into the wild this afternoon after successful treatment following oiling in Dubai Star oil spill in San Francisco Bay.

The birds included five American Coots, two Western/Clark’s Grebes, a Eared Grebe, a Horned Grebe and a Greater Scaup). The healthy birds were set free in Berkeley.

A total of 49 live oiled birds have been captured following the tanker spill on October 30, 2009 about 2 1/2 miles south of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. At least 20 birds have been found dead after spill that leaked up to 800 gallons of bunker fuel into the bay.

The birds are being treated in Fairfield at the San Francisco Oiled Wildlife Care & Education Center (SFBOCEC) that is co-managed by the Oiled Wildlife Care Network and International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC).

You can see more updates on the OWCN Blog

Photo courtesy: OWCN

November 3, 2009

40+ oiled birds collected in SF Bay spill

After collecting more than 40 oiled birds over the weekend, the search continues for soiled wildlife after a tanker spilled 400 to 800 gallons of bunker fuel into San Francisco Bay last Friday morning.

So far, 35 live birds had been collected and another 11 had been found dead, according to the California Department of Fish and Game.

Most of the attention has been turned on the Alameda area where the beach has been coated with tar balls from the spill from the Panama-based Dubai Star.

The cleaning of oiled birds has already begun at the San Francisco Oiled Wildlife Care & Education Center (SFBOCEC) that is co-managed by the Oiled Wildlife Care Network and IBRRC.

You can watch a video on OWCN’s blog:

We’re washing shore birds today (dowitchers and a plover). Thought folks might like to see a short video clip. The oil is very thick and starting to get more tarry so we use a pre-treating agent to loosen the oil and make it easier to clean off the feathers. You’ll see plenty of it coming off on the person’s gloves.

– Greg Greg Massey, OWCN Assistant Director

If you find any oiled wildlife, please immediately contact 1.877.UCD.OWCN (1-877-823-6926).

No volunteers are needed at this time.

For response information: The Press/Media should call (510) 437-3808.

Who and what is California’s Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN)?

Read more on the SF Chronicle website

December 6, 2007

Update: 347 birds released back into wild

Nearly a month after oil spilled into San Francisco Bay, oiled wildlife experts continue to rehabilitate and release oiled birds. To date, 347 washed birds have been set free. Video of bird release

There have been nearly 2,400 confirmed deaths since the Cosco Busan container ship struck the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge on November 7 and spilled 58,000 gallons of bunker crude oil. At least 1,750 arrived dead following the spill. Another 650 died or were euthanized during care at the OWCN/IBRRC Cordelia bird center.

Avian experts and biologist fear that 5 to 10 times the amount of bird deaths may actually end up taking place. That death figure estimates are based on birds that may have landed in the oil and then flown out of the area to die. San Francisco Chronicle story

My thanks to IBRRC volunteer Jean Shirley for the bird release photo and video.

December 1, 2007

With proactive capture and quick care, oiled birds CAN be rehabilitated

Special message from Jay Holcomb, IBRRC, Executive Director:

Hello friends and supporters,

First I want to say thank you to all of you who have donated to our efforts. Secondly, I want to answer some questions that have I have been asked recently, by the media and concerned people, to set the record straight. My time is limited so I will start with one question and add more as I can.

1. Do rehabilitated birds in oil spills survive once they have been released?

I wish I had a yes or no answer but it just is not that simple. The truth is that, yes, many have a very good chance of survival. We have documented many survival stories but it is very difficult to follow up on sea birds that live in colonies in remote areas and who basically look the same except for little silver bands on one leg. In most cases we receive less than a 1% return rate on banded birds and especially sea birds that live in colonies that sometimes range in the millions. But we are always working to establish and apply any post release studies that we can. Some of the best “post release” information to date has come from the ongoing study of bird species that are just plain easier to study; Snowy plovers, African Penguins that live in predictable areas and waterfowl that are hunted to name a few.

Oiled Penguins

In 2000 IBRRC, International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and South African National Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), based in Cape Town, South Africa, joined forces to rehabilitate 21,000 African Penguins. The birds were oiled when the bulk carrier, Treasure, sunk between two large and important penguin colonies on Dassen and Robben Islands off the Cape Town coast.

Collectively our team turned a vacant train warehouse and six surrounding acres into an oiled penguin rehabilitation center. Within three months, using our proven oiled bird rehabilitation methods, we released 19,500 healthy viable penguins back into their colonies. It was truly a miracle and we were as astonished as anyone that we were able to accomplish this under great odds. Every released penguin was flipper tagged and birds have been studied aggressively since that time. All post release studies have shown that these birds have survived, and reproduced equal to non-oiled penguins.

The rehabilitation of oiled penguins is now considered by Cape Nature Conservation as one of the most important management tools used in the survival plan of this vulnerable species. These findings can be found on the group’s website and I strongly suggest you read them.

Oiled Shorebirds

In 1999 IBRRC responded to the New Carissa oil spill on the Southern Oregon coast at Coos Bay. During that spill we captured and rehabilitated 32 oiled snowy plovers; a species of great concern. It is important to point out that snowy plovers are small shorebirds. Biologists and others who know little of the details in rehabilitating oiled birds believed oiled shorebirds could not be rehabilitated. This perception is completely incorrect and unfortunate.

We have successfully rehabilitated and released many healthy shorebirds; dunlin, sanderling, piping plovers and now snowy plovers. In fact, these birds do the best of many of the birds we receive, if they are captured before they become weak and sick.

Of the 32 oiled snowy plovers that we captured, washed and rehabilitated during the New Carissa oil spill, all were released as healthy birds and were studied extensively showing that their life spans and breeding activity were the same as non-oiled plovers. Once again proving that the rehabilitation of oiled shorebirds can work when they are given a chance and it is done correctly.

The most important factor in all of this is initiating a proactive and aggressive capture program before the birds get to weak and succumb to hypothermia and predators. It was exactly those factors that made people believe shorebirds could not be rehabilitated. Prior to aggressively capturing these birds, we would only get sick, weak and dying birds in the center; therefore, high mortality. However, with a proactive approach, professionals with the proper tools and capture methods, many oiled shorebirds can be captured and rehabilitated. These shorebirds do very well in rehabilitation as they are ravenous eaters and seem to handle the stress of the process very well. We typically release over 90% of the shorebirds we proactively capture in oil spills.

Oiled Waterfowl

Most of our band returns from oiled birds that were rehabilitated and released come from waterfowl. Unfortunately waterfowl are hunted; but at least we get some feedback on our released animals. This group includes all ducks and geese and hunters are supposed to return the bands.

We have had oiled rehabilitated ducks hunted years later from many places in California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Utah, Nevada and Canada indicating that many survived, sometimes for many years before they were shot.

One of our most important pieces of information came from the band returns of five hunted king eiders from a spill we did in Alaska in the remote Pribilof Islands in 1996. 180 oiled king eiders were sent to our center in Anchorage for rehabilitation, a six-hour trip for these wild birds. Once rehabilitated, they took another six hour flight and were released back in the Pribilof Islands. In the following six years, five of them were hunted by local native hunters and the bands were reported. This by no means suggest that they all lived but these five birds went through the same treatment as the other 175 or so and survived indicating that this species can be rehabilitated and survive the logistical time delays that required them to travel in cages for long hours. See also: IBRRC Pribilof Spill Response Report

One other important spill was a spill on the Santa Clara River in Southern California where we captured and rehabilitated 175 very heavily oiled mallards, widgeons and other waterfowl species. Over the next six years, six of those ducks were hunted and reported. It may seem like a small number but it was significant to us, as we knew what those animals endured being covered in very heavy and thick oil. You can read about this on our web site under Band Returns/Santa Clara River spill, 1991.

There is much more to say about this topic and I will pick it up in future messages. For now I need to get back to the birds.

Thanks for reading,

Jay Holcomb, IBRRC

November 17, 2007

A call for volunteers: A personal account

In wake of oil spill, bird rescuers work against clock, the odds:

“…A group of net-wielding bird rescuers in white Tyvek coveralls converged on the scoters from two sides. As the lead netter yelled, “Go, go, go, go, go!” they charged. The ducks, unaware that they were being rescued, fled for the water. Three got away; three were netted and transferred to towel-lined cardboard pet carriers. Then someone asked if we could take the scoters to the International Bird Rescue Research Center in Cordelia in Solano County for cleaning. Sure!…”

– Excerpt from San Francisco Chronicle’s “Diary of a Dirty Job” column by avid birders and extraordinary volunteers Joe Eaton and Ron Sullivan.

Read the full column

April 30, 2005

2005 – Coatzacoalcos, Mexico

Ruptured PEMEX oil pipeline soaks wildlife in Gulf of Mexico

oiled Brown pelicans in mexicoA stubborn oil spill along the coast near Veracruz, Mexico affected hundreds of birds and animals. A total of 175 birds were captured by joint IBRRC/IFAW Emergency Response (ER) Team. The spill occurred on December 22, 2004.

As aviaries were being constructed on the waters edge near the Coatzacoalcos River, dozens of pelicans and other seabirds flew overhead or sat around on the tops of the nearby buildings watching the activities going on below. Most of them appeared to be oiled.

“We have about 100 birds in-house and another 400 on-house!” said Jay Holcomb co-director of the ER Team, trying to add some humor to a very trying experience.

The rescue team captured large numbers of pelicans on a daily basis simply by baiting them in. Most were in good condition and all ate well so the turnaround from washing to release was quick.

According to Paul Kelway of the ER Team, the group captured a large number of pelicans on a daily basis simply by baiting them in. Most are in good condition and all ate well so the turnaround to washing and then to release was quite quick.

Species treated included Brown Pelicans, Laughing Gulls, herons, snakes and box turtles as well as a hawk, Kingfisher, iguana and a water turtle.

The ER Team approached 15 people strong at the height of the spill. Volunteers included students from the University of Veracruz.

Spill details

The broken PEMEX oil pipeline spilled at least 7,000 gallons (26,000 liters) of oil affecting birds and animals in the Veracruz area of the Gulf of Mexico.

Reports estimated that up to 400 pelicans were impacted and requiring washing and rehabilitation. Because the oil traveled up to 7 miles (11km), the damage to wildlife and beaches was worse than originally thought. The ER Team recruited additional help in order to recover and wash more birds.

The oil spilled from a ruptured pipeline into the Coatzacoalcos River on Dec. 22, 2004 following an explosion at a pumping station near Santiago Tuxtla, about 250 miles (400 kilometers) east-southeast of Mexico City. The blast caused a burst of high pressure that ruptured the oil line 70 miles (110 kilometers) away in Nanchital, just south of the Gulf port city of Coatzacoalcos.

The pelicans rescued by the ER Team were cared for at a makeshift facility owned by Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX). The team identified possible facilities where access to good amounts of hot water was available and where the rehabilitation process following washing could be carried out. It was determined that the Fisherman’s Club was the best available facility
for rehabilitation.

The IBRRC/IFAW team gathered and trained volunteers from the local university in Veracruz to assist with the oiled wildlife operation. Pemex hired over 1,000 workers to assist in the oil cleanup. Water heaters were also purchased to provide sufficient quantities of hot water for the washing process. Pens and pools were built on the beach to house and wash the birds.

The ER Team worked with Pemex to set up waste tanks in order to properly dispose of the waste water generated by the animal washing.

About the ER Team

IFAW’s Emergency Relief (ER) Team is managed cooperatively
by International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and the International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC) which brings over 30 years of experience responding to oiled wildlife. The team is comprised of leaders in the field of wildlife rehabilitation, biology, veterinary medicine and management who are professionals from Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany, South Africa, UK and USA. In 2000 the team jointly led the response to the Treasure Oil Spill in Cape Town, South Africa, with SANCCOB, which was the largest of its kind. This required a three-month operation involving 12,000 volunteers and ultimately of the 20,000 oiled African penguins, 90% were released back into the wild. The IFAW ER Team has attended more than a dozen major oil spill wildlife disasters around the world in recent years. IFAW’s ER team now has such experience that it is recognized as having a global presence that supersedes other oiled wildlife response organizations.

Media stories

Black Gold Leaves a Stain on Mexican Coastal Region, Los Angeles Times

– Compiled by Russ Curtis/IBRRC with help from IFAW reports.