Valdez: A Comparison for Wildlife

How does the Deepwater Horizon oil spill compare to the historical monster of Exxon Valdez, by which we judge all oil disasters? How long will this go on?

We went back to the records of Valdez to look at its size and what we might lay ahead.

In the Valdez spill Scientific American reports that 2,000 sea otters, 302 harbor seals and about 250,000 seabirds died in the first few days. So far we have only 2 birds in care that I know of. Rescuers retrieved a total of 36,471 carcasses and captured 1,630 live birds, the IBRRC reports. The Valdez spill was March 24, 1989. The last wildlife rehab center closed September 6 of that year. The Deepwater Horizon spill was on April 22, 2009. By that measure, rehabbers will be on the scene until early October. By the 10th day of the Valdez oil spill, rescuers were finding 180 oiled birds per square mile, the Coast Guard reported. The oil spread so far in Prince William Sound that rescuers had to set up four wildlife care centers. They’ve already set up three down south. There are Oiled Bird Rescue Centers in Fort Jackson, Louisiana, Theodore, Alabama and Pensacola, Florida. How long will it take the wildlife to recover? Here’s the really scary part. They’re still digging up oil in Valdez and some species are still recovering. Where to Go to See Wildlife Where to Go See Wildlife Down South RESCUE GROUPS International Bird Rescue Research Center, based in

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Wildlife Rescuers in Gulf Overwhelmed–By Volunteers, Not Patients

San Francisco Oil Spill - Partially Oiled Gull

Oiled gull in CA in 2007 by Ingrid Taylar. Not many oiled birds seen yet in the gulf.

So far only a single bird, a Northern Gannett, has shown up oiled from the massive Deepwater Horizon spill. Wildlife rescuers and nonetheless overwhelmed–by all the untrained human volunteers.

As the potential for the spill gets bigger, the big wildlife groups are contemplating holding training classes to equip the would-be volunteers, says Kai Williams, executive director of the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council.

Right now several groups are taking in information from potential volunteers.  The National Wildlife Federation is directing people to sign up with the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana.

 “If you have the ability to restain an animal, that’s going to be huge, just the basic ability to hold an animal,” says Williams. “They’re getting a lot of untrained people, not wildlife rehabilitators, people who have never picked up a bird.”

What makes planning the response so hard is no one knows how big this still-developing catastrophe is going to be or when and where a rush of injured animals will show up. Some contemplate that the Gulf Stream could wrap it around Florida. Some worry the spill could end up bigger than Valdez. Williams notes that fewer birds live in Valdez, but there are also turtles and marine mammals to worry about.

The northern gannet is being bathed, fed electrolytes and pepto bismal, but rough weather this weekend prevented picking up more patients. A caretaker

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Several Manatees Swimming Toward Danger and the Oil Spill; Mobile May Release Dammed Waters

Biologists know that a handful of manatees are in the Gulf of Mexico and swimming westward–toward the massive Deepwater Horizon oil spill, but so far they have decided not to try to intervene. Mobile Bay officials may release dammed waters to push the oil away from the bay, a local scientist says.

A female manatee that spends the summer in Mobile Bay is now in Appalachicola Bay, FL, says Ruth H. Carmichael, senior marine scientist at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, which is bracing for the oil slick.  Appalachicola Bay is roughly 250 miles from Mobile–if you take the shore route. They can swim up to 45 miles a day, but 5-15 is more likely.

“I hope she finds a nice location to wait for a while,” Carmichael says. “The USGS also has a few tagged manatees they know are moving this way.  We are doing nothing to move or disturb the animals.  Right now the oil is offshore and the manatees are in shore.  We need to trust them to take care of themselves for now.”

Manatees spend the winter near hot springs or power plants in Florida, but as their population has recovered, they are swimming further in the summer. A few now regularly visit Alabama and every few years a young male makes it up to New England.  

“Mobile Bay is trying to arrange for discharge of dammed waters , if needed, to force water out of the Bay and keep it westward off shore,”

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Groups Recruiting Volunteers to Clean up to 400 Wildlife Species at Risk From Oil Spill

A stunning 400 species of birds, marine mammals, turtles, land mammals and reptiles could be hurt by the Deepwater Horizons oil spill, which is now just 6-7 miles off Louisiana. The current strong winds may blow the muck to shore by Friday morning, the latest report says. obtained a list of 400 species put in harm’s way by the oil from the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources. Bob Marshall writes that this is a particularly horrible time for the oil spill–right when birds are migrating through or nesting. The soon-to-be oiled area is:

vital wintering or resting spot for more than 70 percent of the nation’s waterfowl, is used by all 110 neo-tropical migratory songbirds, and produces 50 percent of the nation’s wild shrimp crop, 35 percent of its blue claw crabs and 40 percent of its oysters. Ressearchers say 90 percent of all the marine species in the Gulf of Mexico depend on coastal estuaries at some point in their lives, and most of those estuaries are in Louisiana.

The New York Times has a great chart highlighting which species are most at risk, mostly migrating birds. The brown pelican was just removed from the endangered species list.

The Oiled Wildlife Care Network–a collection of wildlife responders across California–has sent its director down and is collecting info on volunteers.  They say it’s too late to train you to clean up animals but you could become a “convergent volunteer.” Specialized groups or state rehabber associations do

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Pelicans, Otters, Manatees Could be Hurt by Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Deepwater Horizon oil spill seen from space over LAImagery courtesy of NASA Earth Observatory

Endangered sea turtles, herons, white and brown pelicans, dolphins, whales, manatees, tuna and assorted sea birds  could all be hurt by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill that is now 16 miles off the tip of Louisiana and alarming wildlife officials all the way to Florida.

The Coast Guard is burning the oil, hoping that will keep it from making landfall and destroying wetlands. I wonder if, ironically, the giant dead zone in the gulf may mean that the area the oil spill hits may be devoid of life anyway. The next step for wildlife rescuers would be to herd animals out of the area by hazing them.  The International Bird Rescue Research Center in Texas says they’ve been put on alert for the decapitated oil well, which is gushing about 1,000 barrels (42,000 US gallons) of crude daily and already can be seen from space, with a circumference of 600 miles.

If the spill stays offshore then the impact will likely be minimal to birds. Coastal birds that are highly at risk if the spill hits shore are brown and white pelicans, terns, gulls, shorebirds, skimmers and herons. Nesting and feeding areas for birds and sea turtles such as marshes and beaches could be impacted.

Loggerhead and Kemp’s Ridley turtles are in the area, Live Science says. Birds are vulnerable if they ingest the oil or get coated in it. The

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