US Gulf Coast wildlife face devastating impact from oil slick

Tuesday, 4 May, 2010
Yarmouth Port, Mass.
Experts from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW – warn the massive oil slick that has reached the coast of Louisiana puts wildlife at risk and may cause an environmental catastrophe of historic proportions.

The April 20 explosion of the BP-operated Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig has reportedly spewed around 5,000 barrels of oil a day into the Gulf.

“In an incident like this, coastal birds will be among the hardest hit. There are millions of birds at risk as the US Gulf coast is not only home to many resident species, but also a regular refuge for many birds migrating north,” said Dr. Ian Robinson, IFAW Emergency Relief Director.

Some well-known species at risk include terns, herons, egrets, gannets, ducks and Louisiana’s state bird, the Brown pelican.

“When a bird’s feathers become clogged with oil they no longer act as a waterproof coat.  Cold water penetrates to the bird’s skin and rapidly leads to hypothermia,” added Dr. Robinson. “At the same time, as the bird preens, to try and clean the oil from the feathers, it inadvertently ingests toxic oil which leads to symptoms of poisoning, including diarrhea and dehydration.”

Marine mammals and sea turtles are at risk from the spill. Whales, dolphins, manatees, and sea turtles surface frequently to breathe and may be exposed to volatile chemicals during inhalation. There are concerns with marine mammals ingesting and swimming in oil. Oil may burn the mucous membranes of an animal’s eyes and mouth. For large whales, oil can foul the baleen they use to filter-feed, decreasing their ability to eat.

IFAW has responded to more than 25 oil spills around the world rescuing tens of thousands of birds and returning them to the wild after rehabilitation. The organization conducts animal rescue trainings around the world to respond to animals facing crisis and distress in the wake of disasters.

In Louisiana, IFAW collaborates closely with the Louisiana State Animal Response Team (L-SART) and recently completed animal rescue trainings including the use of boats and water rescue.

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