Gulf Oil Spill: What It Takes To Save Oil Soaked Animals
The race to save wildlife hit by the gulf oil spill is in full force, especially since rescue teams have seen a sharp increase in the number of birds and sea turtles washing onshore alive, over the last few days. This acceleration has put rehabilitation centers and experts from all parts of the country on high alert.
Now that the oil is reaching land, it is bringing with it more oil soaked animals. In just the past several days the number of birds found alive has increased to 289 with 86 arriving on one single day. They are primarily brown pelicans and some are covered so thickly in oil they are hardly recognizable.
Another 547 birds have been found dead, 73 of them were soaked in oil.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has documented a similar occurrence with sea turtles reporting that 278 have been hurt by the spill.
At the moment local and regional wildlife rehabilitation centers like the International Bird Rescue Research Center, the Audubon Nature Institue and the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge are taking care of the animals. But scientists, biologists and others with specialized skills in marine life are on standby to either receive animals or send their teams to the area. All wait in anguish as they watch the disaster unfolding.
The National Aquarium, which is part of the Marine Mammal Stranding Network is ready to receive injured sea turtles. Their deputy director, Dr. Brent Whitaker said, “As hospital beds fill up in the southeast, I anticipate we’ll see a greater need for our services. I suspect it’s just a matter of time before we are called.”
Dr. Cindy Driscoll from the Oxford Laboratory in Cambridge is on standby for a call that would let her help determine how each of the animals died.
Teams of wildlife experts have come from as far as Southern California to help. Dr. Grey Stafford with the Wildlife Zoo and Aquarium in Phoenix, AZ is ready to accept injured animals or travel to the gulf to assist. He said, “It won’t be long before first responders in the area will be overwhelmed with wildlife rescue efforts.” He is prepared to go.
How Will The Experts Help When They Arrive At The Gulf Coast?
The primary goal of the experts will be to rescue, rehabilitate and release the animals. But if too many wash onshore rescue teams worry they will have to make decisions about which animals to treat and which to let die.
The specialists will examine the turtles for pneumonia from inhaling the toxic fumes of the oil and they will check for stomach ailments from ingesting the oil.
Other experts will observe the pelicans for signs of hypothermia. The birds lose their ability to insulate their bodies after being exposed to the oil.
And finally, the specialists will examine each animal for signs of stress that could ultimately threaten their lives.
Cleaning The Animals
All of the rescued wildlife exposed to the oil must be thoroughly cleaned. The process for the pelicans is painstaking and a large warehouse in Louisiana is being used for the job. And after the procedure the birds remain at the make-shift rehab center for 7 to 10 days before being transported to Florida and released.
Some are flown in by helicopter and others arrive at the warehouse in dog carriers. All are stressed by their unfamiliar surrounding and handling by humans. ABC News explained the details of the cleaning process.
First the pelicans are massaged in warm vegetable oil to break up the muddy oil from the spill. Then they are put into a sink filled with Dawn or other gentle dishwashing soap and the workers gently clean their feathers. Extra care must be taken so the birds’ feathers are not damaged. A toothbrush is used around their eyes and head. This continues until all of the oil is washed away.
Next the pelicans are dried in a “blow drying room” like the ones used at dog grooming salons.
The process leaves the pelicans looking beautiful on the outside, but unable to control their body temperatures and protect themselves from the cold or heat. They are placed in climate controlled pens that resemble their natural habitat. For the next week they are monitored by specialists until they can regulate their body temperature and are able to fish. The healthy pelicans are then released.
The process to clean the sea turtles is similar to the pelicans, but mayonnaise is also used to break down the oil. And all of the turtles start on a course of antibiotics, as well.
The next few weeks will be a critical time for all of the wildlife affected by the oil spill, but with the help of the many dedicated scientists, biologists and other experts each animal will be handled with care and receive the best possible treatment.
Creative Commons - Les Stone