japonisme: Expert Recommends Killing Oil-Soaked Birds

24 May 2010

Expert Recommends Killing Oil-Soaked Birds

A German biologist says that efforts to clean oil-drenched birds in the Gulf of Mexico are in vain. For the birds' sake, it would be faster and less painful if animal-rescue workers put them under, she says. Studies and other experts back her up.

"Kill, don't clean," is the recommendation of a German animal biologist, who this week said that massive efforts to clean oil-soaked birds in Gulf of Mexico won't do much to stop a near certain and painful death for the creatures.

Despite the short-term success in cleaning the birds and releasing them back into the wild, few, if any, have a chance of surviving, says Silvia Gaus, a biologist at the Wattenmeer National Park along the North Sea in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein.

"According to serious studies, the middle-term survival rate of oil-soaked birds is under 1 percent," Gaus says.
"We, therefore, oppose cleaning birds."

The oil spill -- which continues to pump more than 200,000 gallons (755,000 liters) of crude into the Gulf each day -- was caused by an April 20 explosion on a BP- operated oil rig about 50 miles off the Louisiana coast.

In the path of the spill are several large protected areas for wildlife, including a vital nesting area for thousands of brown pelicans which were only removed from the US Endangered Species Program last year. Louisiana's Breton National Wildlife Refuge is by itself home to 34,000 birds. So far, the vast oil slick has yet to make significant landfall, limiting the numbers of birds affected, but observers worry that it is only a matter of time before beaches along America's Gulf Coast become blackened.

Birds Will Eventually Perish from Long-Term Causes

Catching and cleaning oil-soaked birds oftentimes leads to fatal amounts of stress for the animals, Gaus says. Furthermore, forcing the birds to ingest coal solutions -- or Pepto Bismol, as animal-rescue workers are doing along the Gulf Coast -- in an attempt to prevent the poisonous effects of the oil is ineffective, Gaus says. The birds will eventually perish anyway from kidney and liver damage.

Gaus speaks from 20 years of experience, and she worked on the environmental cleanup of the Pallas -- a wood-carrying cargo ship that spilled 90 tons of oil in the North Sea after running aground in October of 1998. Around 13,000 birds drown, froze or expired due to stress as a result of the Pallas spill.

Once covered in oil, a bird will use its bill and tongue to remove the toxic substance from their feathers. Despite oil's terrible taste and smell, a bird will still try and clean itself because it can't live without fluffy feathers that repel water and regulate its body temperature. "Their instinct to clean is greater than their instinct to hunt, and as long as their feathers are dirty with oil, they won't eat," Gaus says.

Kill Them 'Quickly and Painlessly'

But it's the instinct of biologists, who often feel compelled to save the birds out of duty and ethical reasons, that will ultimately lead a bird to a worse death,say some. It would be better to let the birds die in peace, Gaus says, or kill them "quickly and painlessly."

Even dyed-in-the-wool preservationists from the WWF agree with Gaus. At the time of the 2002 Prestige oil spill off the coast of Spain, a spoke- sman from the organization said: "Birds, those that have been covered in oil and can still be caught, can no longer be helped. … Therefore, the World Wildlife Fund is very reluctant to recommend cleaning."

The Prestige spill killed 250,000 birds. Of the thousands that were cleaned, most died within a few days, and only 600 lived and were able to be released into the wild. According to a British study of the spill, the median lifespan of a bird that was cleaned and released was only seven days.

egk -- with wire reports

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Anonymous evan said...

the article is horrible, only because it presents a grim reality. I don't know if the study is accurate or not, but I think this is a disaster that, even if they capped the spill today, would continue to unfold for months to come. Who really knows what the damage is given that it's not just about birds, but damage to an entire system?
Meanwhile you have "drill baby drill" Palin putting the blame on Obama saying he & the government should have stepped in already. And done what? Who has the technology to deal with the situation? Oil companies (one would hope & assume). I can think of a few politicians I wouldn't mind seeing oil soaked. Oops. I typed that out loud, didn't I?

25 May, 2010 07:08  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

the article sounds wise and well-informed to me, and so fucking tragic that it almost makes me suicidal.

the trouble with those politicians is not that they should be soaked with oil but that they already are.

25 May, 2010 12:06  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My wife tells me a colleague of her's died yesterday, and beyond her I hear the tv telling us Rue McClanahan has died, yet this article conveys the saddest thing I've learned today.

The pelican art is beautiful...

03 June, 2010 16:28  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

it seems that when the truth is counter-intuitive, it's more painful.

03 June, 2010 19:33  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I came in thinking what a nutcase, guess Ive been served with information. I think cleaning the birds gives people a feel good, but apparently its not such a feel good for the birds.....Maybe a better cleaning formula is needed?

04 June, 2010 02:19  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

from what this article suggests, it would seem that once a bird is soaked, no cleaning solution would save them. in fact, it occurs to me that it's altogether possible that big oil is responsible for spreading the 'clean baby clean' meme, figuring if you make people feel like they're saving exquisite birds, they won't be putting their energy into lawsuits and other attempts at 'justice.'

04 June, 2010 07:07  

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