Oil Spill Penguins Face Death, Bounce Back
Imagine the feeling of just going about your day, walking down the street, when all of a sudden the shock of carbon dioxide shoots pain through your lungs. Slowly you realize that with each breath you are depriving yourself of oxygen. Your body begins to shut down. You look around thinking this is must be some terrible mistake…but instead you see the people around you grasping with the same pain. For penguins trapped in an oil spill, this painful event is all too familiar.
Each year, oil is deliberately dumped into ocean waters endangering marine life and devastating coastal ecosystems. It’s difficult to conceptualize the damage that is caused by a single oil container until you actually see photos of the oiled beaches covered in a carpet of a thousand oiled penguins. The oil, dumped as a result of careless human activity, often comes from a source that is not identifiable.
The entire process of removing the oil and rehabilitating the wildlife can take anywhere from four weeks to four months. Over the past three months I have been watching from afar as the IFAW oiled wildlife response team rescued 224 penguins from an oiled beach in the Cabo Virgenes Nature Reserve in Argentina. Without a doubt, IFAW’s team is the world leader in oiled wildlife rehabilitation.
As I share this information with you, I am proud of the expertise we have on the ground. This year our team endured the challenges of cold weather, water heaters malfunctioning, lack of fish for penguin diets, transportation of hundreds of penguins across 130 km and having to set up a rehabilitation site from almost nothing.
‘Waterproofing’ is the final stage in the rehabilitating process where the penguins prepare themselves for life under water. After the birds have been cleaned of all oil and are maintaining a healthy immune system, they are placed in outdoor pools allowing them to wash and preen themselves. Waterproofing is crucial for penguins whose feathers must be nearly impenetrable to wind and water.
Who would have thought that in the middle of July, it would reach -14C along the coast of Argentina? These temperatures restricted the amount of time the penguins could spend outside in the waterproofing pools. Therefore, the release date was continually pushed back, extending the average time it takes to waterproof. Following three intensive months in rehabilitation, the penguin release is now underway in San Clemente del Tuyu.