Gulf oil spill rescuers prepare & wait

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2010:
NEW ORLEANS–Almost a month after the British Petroleum
drilling platform Deepwater Horizon exploded on April 20, 2010 in
the Gulf of Mexico, 45 miles southeast of Venice, Louisiana,
rescuers from Texas to Florida were still awaiting an anticipated
influx of animals from a disaster projected by many experts as
perhaps the worst-ever oil spill for wildlife.
“I think we ruined every child’s summer in New Orleans,
because we bought all the kiddie pools,” Louisiana state marine
mammal and sea turtle stranding coordinator Michelle Kelley told
Associated Press writer Janet McConnaughey.

“The wading pools have remained stacked,” McConnaughey
wrote. Also unused were “3,000 extra-large dog crates that were
trucked to Venice for the use of boat-based bird rescue crews.”
“Every zoo in the country, practically, has offered help,”
Aububon Nature Institute spokesperson Sarah Burnette said.
The Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport,
Mississippi prepared to take in “possibly hundreds of oily sea
mammals,” reported Associated Press writer Brian Skoloff. Institute
director Moby Solangi expected to receive sea turtles, manatees, and
especially dolphins.
“Solangi said there are up to 5,000 dolphins between the
Mississippi and Louisiana coasts and the oil rig, many giving birth
right now,” wrote Skoloff. Yet the institute’s holding tanks were
British Petroleum brought a team from Tri-State Bird Rescue &
Research in Delaware to lead the wildlife rescue effort. Arriving in
Louisiana on April 26th, Tri-State partnered with the
California-based International Bird Rescue Research Center and the
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to set up bird cleaning stations in Fort
Jackson, Louisiana; Theodore, Alabama; Gulfport, Mississippi;
and Pensacola, Florida.
The Clearwater Wildlife Sanctuary and the Humane Society of
Louisiana organized a standby wildlife transport team.
Procter & Gamble stocked the cleaning stations with 1,000
bottles of Dawn dishwashing liquid, favored for de-oiling birds
since it proved uniquely effective after the wreck of the Torrey
Canyon supertanker off the coast of Cornwall in 1967–the first major
oil spill outside of wartime and still among the biggest, killing
more than 15,000 birds.
After 24 days, the four cleaning stations opened in response
to the Deepwater Horizon disaster had handled just 24 birds.
“In the meantime our centers in the Los Angeles and San
Francisco areas are in spring mode and getting busier by the day,”
the International Bird Rescue Research Center web site said. “In
order to support our staff and volunteers back at home in Cordelia
and San Pedro, we are hiring extra summer help.”
But no one near the oil spill seemed inclined to stand down
from preparedness.
“With BP finally gaining some control over the amount of oil
spewing into the Gulf of Mexico, scientists are increasingly worried
that crude already spilled could get caught the loop current, a
ribbon of warm water that begins in the Gulf of Mexico and wraps
around Florida,” wrote Jeffrey Collins and Matt Sedensky of
Associated Press. “Some scientists project that the current will
draw the crude through the Keys and then up Florida’s Atlantic
Coast,” to “endanger shoreline mangroves, seagrass beds, and the
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Pollutants can smother and
kill corals,” Collins and Sedensky warned. “That could harm
thousands of species of marine life.”
Florida International University seagrass ecologist James
Fourqurean said seagrass would stand up well against oil, but
mangroves could be killed. “Red fish, snook, snapper, and sea
trout could all be impacted,” Collins and Sedensky summarized, “as
could wading birds such as osprey, heron, and pelicans. Manatees
could be affected.”
“In addition to the potential catastrophic losses to
shorebirds on their breeding grounds and in the wetlands around the
gulf, the oil spill poses a serious threat to seabirds,” said
American Bird Conservancy founder George Fenwick. “Many will likely
die unseen far out in the Gulf. Luckily most of the adult gannets
have already headed north to their breeding grounds. In addition to
these plunge-diving birds,” Fenwick said, “surface foragers such as
terns and gulls are vulnerable, particularly this time of year. Most
difficult to measure,” Fenwick said, “is the loss of future
generations when birds fail to lay eggs or eggs fail to hatch. Many
birds are incubating eggs right now, and even small amounts of oil
on the parent’s feathers will kill the young.”
Erupting five days after the Deepwater Horizon blew up,
three days after it sank, the oil spill gushed with ever-increasing
velocity for more than four weeks before BP got even a portion of it
under control.
The slick initially menaced the Breton National Wildlife
Refuge, “home to the brown pelican, which faces a new threat less
than six months after it was removed from the endangered species
list,” wrote Matthew Tresauge of the Houston Chronicle. “The concern
is that a strong high tide or powerful winds would push the oil over
the booms and onto the islands. That’s what happened in 2005, when
roughly 700 brown pelicans died after a smaller oil spill from a
storm-damaged drilling platform fouled their nesting grounds at
Breton,” Tresauge recalled. “About 1,000 brown pelicans now nest on
the refuge’s two barrier islands, which have a total population of
about 34,000 birds.”
“Oil is extremely toxic to eggs,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service public affairs officer Denise Rowell told Panama City
News-Herald writer Tosha Sketo. “If even a little bit of oil gets on
some eggs, it usually means the eggs are goners. We could lose an
entire nesting season,” Rowell lamented.
The spill “is likely to have a huge impact on the
availability of deepwater bluefin tuna,” Sketo projected. “The Gulf
is only one of two breeding grounds for the tuna. Everything from
cobia to grouper could be affected, as bottom-dwelling fish who
mostly escaped the spill initially will feel it when dispersal agents
cause the oil to clump and sink.”
“The Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, one of the great success
stories in marine conservation, is among the creatures most
threatened by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill,” offered Osha Gray
Davidson of OnEarth. “Many turtles native to Padre Island, and even
some that nest in Mexico, feed in the shallow waters near shore,
from Texas across the Gulf coast to the Florida panhandle. Those are
the areas most likely to be hit hard by the oil spill.”
“One of their favorite foraging spots is immediately west of
the Mississippi River,” added Texas A&M turtle expert Andre Landry.
“If we have a wind or current change, we may see them fouled.”
Thirty-eight sea turtles were found dead within the oil spill area,
but at least 30 appeared to have died before the Deepwater Horizon
caught fire. “At this point, I can’t say if any turtles have died
due to oil from the rig explosion,” Landry said. “That doesn’t mean
they haven’t. And it certainly does not mean that they won’t.
Kemp’s ridleys eat crustaceans, primarily blue crabs,” Landry
continued. “If the oil contaminates the habitat that sustains the
crabs, that will almost certainly affect the turtles.”
Even river otters and mink along Louisiana’s fragile islands
and barrier marshes are at risk, Associated Press writer Cain
Burdeau suggested.
“There probably will be alligators and land mammals” fouled
by oil, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries veterinarian
Jim LaCour told Mike Hasten of the Shreveport Times.
But the most numerous victims, for the moment, appeared to
be the “unusually large number of dead jellyfish” who washed up on an
island in the Mississippi delta, reported by National Wildlife
Federation president Larry Schweiger.

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