How Do Wild Animals Survive Hurricanes?
People can flee Hurricane Sandy, but what about wildlife? Animals who live outdoors don’t have the option of evacuating to city-run shelters or hunkering down indoors. They must brave the brunt of the storm, and some of them will not survive it.
Baby animals who live in trees, like squirrels and birds, are at high risk of being blown out of their nests and becoming lost, separated from their parents forever. One example is a litter of baby squirrels who were blown out of their nest and rescued by a Good Samaritan. “[I]f the animals had not been found they would have died within hours,” whether from shock or predators, the Daily Mail reported. But the news wasn’t all good for this squirrel family: sanctuary workers feared that their mother, whom rescuers could not locate, was still searching for her missing babies.
Birds are also in danger of death or dislocation from hurricanes. Some, like woodpeckers, know how to weather the storm — they stay in holes in trees. But migratory birds don’t fare as well. “Powerful winds from hurricanes and tropical storms can blow birds off course and push them hundreds of miles away from their home habitat,” according to the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). Some of them never make it back.
Non-migratory birds are in peril of losing their food sources. “Birds living in hurricane areas…suffer when their food supplies, such as fruits and berries, are stripped from trees and shrubs,” reports Birding.com. But at least the adults can stay put: their toes are designed to clench tight around branches, allowing them to resist even strong winds.
Sea mammals have it hard too. Kevin Coyle of NWF writes that “some dolphins and manatees have actually been blown ashore during major storms.”
Other sea life can suffer from the intermingling of salt and fresh water when a hurricane’s high winds cause storm surges, NWF explains: “[S]alty ocean water [piles] up and surge[s] onshore,” which “shifts the delicate balance of freshwater and brackish wetland areas. Creatures and vegetation that are less salt-tolerant will be harmed and many will not survive this influx of sea water.”
“The reverse is true too. The heavy rains generated by hurricanes will dump water in coastal area river basins (called watersheds) and this, in turn, can send vast amounts of fresh water surging downstream into coastal bays and estuaries.” Again, the vegetation and animals native to salt water may not survive the disruption to their ecosystem.
Wildlife aren’t the only animals at risk: there are also the companion animals left to fend for themselves, including even dogs who are chained up and can’t escape to seek shelter. If you come across domesticated animals whose people have abandoned them to the storm, click here for advice on how to help.
Government authorities learned from Katrina that many people will stay in their homes, in the path of danger, rather than abandon their pets. Perhaps as a result of that experience, during Hurricane Sandy all 65 New York City shelters allowed pets, and the city even encouraged people to bring their pets rather than leave them behind because there was no telling how long it would be before they could return home.
Very early in the storm Hurricane Sandy had already managed to put a deer in harm’s way, as shown in this video from New Jersey of the animal who somehow got caught in the waves of the Atlantic Ocean. Good news: it looks like the deer managed to escape the tide.
For those in Hurricane Sandy’s path, when the storm is over and it is safe to go out, have a look around your neighborhood for animals who need help. You could be their only hope.
Photo credit: Hemera