Monday Reads: The Gulf Oil Spill Wildlife Edition

Of "velcro" feathers and Pepto-Bismol (bonus: an amazing Right Whale tale)

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All along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, rescue and rehabilitation groups are working to search for and clean wildlife fouled by oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill, and to prepare for additional animals that may be rescued in the coming days, weeks, and months.

International Bird Rescue Research Center is working in conjunction with Tri-State Bird Rescue and other experts to operate care centers in several states, and has a very informative FAQ regarding birds and oil spills.

The FAQ answers (among others):

– Should birds be washed immediately upon being found? (No, they are often dehydrated and exhausted, and must be stabilized first.)

– Why shouldn’t cleaning oiled birds be a 24/7 operation? (Washing after sundown disrupts the birds’ circadian rhythm, causing much lower survival rates.)

– How do you re-waterproof bird feathers? (Give the bird time and this will happen on its own: after the bird is able to preen, its cleaned features will properly re-align and naturally “velcro” together into a tight barrier.)

In another interesting fact, Pepto-Bismol apparently soothes upset stomachs of both humans and birds alike; birds who may have ingested oil are given a dose of the pink stuff to protect their stomachs.

On Monday, Lucky (a Northern Gannet) and Pelly (a Brown Pelican) were released in Florida. The two were the first oiled birds that had been found. IBRRC’s blog is providing daily updates of their work.

Left: An oiled Brown Pelican is stabilized before washing at the Fort Jackson.
Right: Cleaned Brown Pelican recovering in an outside pool. (Photos: IBRRC)

Meanwhile, in other waters…
Hundreds of miles up the coast, there was a turn of good news for marine mammals in a story that could have come straight out of the Middle Ages. In the chilly waters off of New England, the Marine Animal Entanglement Response Team of Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies sprang into action to save Wart, a lovely female endangered North Atlantic Right Whale.

Approaching the entangled Wart under permit 932-1905 to begin disentangling operations. (Photo: NOAA permit 774-1875, Northeast Fisheries Science Center.)

For at least two years, long cords of rope had been wrapped around Wart’s mouth and upper jaw. Last week, Director Scott Landry, on a boat 40 feet away, was finally able to free Wart—by shooting the rope off with a crossbow!

The crossbow’s razor tipped arrow (with modifications to prevent any harm to Wart if it had accidentally struck her) successfully cut off the rope around her upper jaw, and will allow the remaining sections of rope to fall away. Only 300–400 of these marvelous creatures are thought to still exist, and every single one of them counts. Read more about this exciting rescue operation at the Cape Cod Today, and about Earthjustice’s lawsuit to protect the right whales.


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