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The Hornet

Serving the Fullerton Community Since 1922

The Hornet

Wildlife rescue rushes to prevent birds from ingesting toxic oil from spill in Pacific

Groups of volunteers from the Oiled Wildlife Care Network and Huntington Beach Wetlands Conservancy have rushed to recover and rehabilitate local wildlife injured by the 133,000-gallon oil spill that occurred early morning Oct. 2 off the coast of the Pacific.

If a bird’s feathers are doused in oil, the oil will remove air spaces in the feathers. This makes it nearly impossible for birds to fly, dive for food, and stay warm, leading to hypothermia and death.

“Animals covered with oil will try to clean it off their body and ingest it, essentially poisoning themselves by eating oil,” said Fullerton College Earth Science Professor Dr. Sean Chamberlin.

Oiled ruddy duck recovered from Pipeline P00547 spill area being washed at a primary care facility.
Oiled ruddy duck recovered from Pipeline P00547 spill area being washed at a primary care facility. Photo credit: OWCN

According to Chamberlin, the main cause of toxicity is the volatile organic compounds found in crude oil, which are toxic to any form of life. For example, Chamberlin said, if you’ve ever smelled fingernail polish remover or lighter fluid, you’ve experienced VOCs. The bloodstream can absorb them and cause brain damage, liver damage and other health problems.

Trained volunteers with The Huntington Beach Wetlands Conservancy work alongside leaders in wildlife care preparedness out of UC Davis, the Oiled Wildlife Care Network, to locate and rehabilitate any animals that came in contact with oil.

Mary, a volunteer with the HB Wetlands Conservancy, said both teams are using their facility to clean and house affected animals.

Animals are incubated, fed, hydrated and rested for around 48 hours before being washed in a sequence of tubs filled with a mixture of diluted dish soap and hot water. This works to remove the heavy oil from their feathers.

OWCN and International Bird Rescue care responders washing the oiled ruddy duck recovered from Pipeline P00547 spill area
OWCN and International Bird Rescue care responders washing the oiled ruddy duck recovered from Pipeline P00547 spill area Photo credit: OWCN

No definitive timeline is available on how long it will take to restore affected beaches, but Chamberlin guesses it could take up to 3-6 months and up to a few years for the wetlands such as the Talbert Marsh. However, it’s too early to tell as rescue teams continue to skim and clear oil.

“As long as the spill is contained and the amounts don’t increase, the coastline, plankton and bottom communities should recover and be fine long term,” Chamberlin said.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife declared a fishery closure to prevent the capture and consumption of fish and shellfish tainted with oil from the spill on Oct. 3. In addition, Newport and Huntington Beach shores are closed to the public for safety measures.

Beta Offshore, the California subsidiary of Amplify Energy, responsible for the oil spill, is based out of Houston, Texas.

Pre-trained volunteers are needed to assist in aid of affected wildlife. For information on how to help with future wildlife rescue missions, volunteer information can be found at Cal Spill Watch.

Anyone that wants to volunteer in the preservation efforts of the wetlands that are home to wildlife can find more information at HB Wetlands Conservancy.

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