W hile most Americans
will be sitting down to a relaxing turkey dinner on Thanksgiving,
the five person team from International Bird Rescue Research
Center (IBRRC) (www.ibrrc.org) based
in California will be spending the day caring for and washing
the hundreds of birds that have been rescued from the Prestige
oil spill in Spain. With conditions expecting to worsen, its
highly likely they may be doing the same Christmas Day and
As oil spills seem to be becoming ever more frequent,
and the public demanding help for the animals, the need to
train other countries in the proper procedures of caring for
and rehabilitating oiled birds has become more important then
ever before. The IBRRC team, considered experts in this field,
has been spending less and less time at home. In fact, the
team may have given the term jet-setters new meaning.
In the past year the countries in which IBRRC staff has worked
include China, Ireland, Australia, Africa, India, Belgium,
the Netherlands, Italy, France, Germany and the Galapagos
Islands. However, their lifestyle is far from glamorous.
Jay Holcomb, Director of IBRRC, and a veteran
of over 100 spills, is considered the worlds expert
on the rehabilitation of oiled birds. He and his team typically
have only a matter of hours to pack a bag and head to a spill
somewhere in the world, with no idea when they will return.
When they land, whatever the time zone, they hit the ground
running and 18-hour workdays are not uncommon.
Many countries have no facilities to handle the
animals who are victims of an oil spill, so most often rehabilitation
centers have to be constructed from nothing. Hot water, pools
for the birds, electricity to keep the birds warm and dry
them after washing, hoses and nozzles, medical supplies,
food, fish, and most importantly, volunteers, all have to
for, many times in very adverse conditions. Dawn
dishwashing liquid (www.saveaduck.com), which is used
to wash the oil from the birds feathers, is donated
and sent by the caseload from Procter and Gamble. IBRRCs
Alaska representative, Barbara Callahan a native of Alaska
and veteran of the Exxon Valdez spill and many others, heads
up the task of procuring the supplies and getting them
The team, which has been in Spain for a week now
(since 11/18), works with the International Fund for Animal
Welfare (IFAW) (www.ifaw.org)
on international spills. Most often, if not for the partnership
IBRRC shares with IFAW, and their funding and logistical support,
there would be no money to care for the animals in enough
time to save them. The window for oiled birds is very short;
within a few days of being oiled, some bird species may be
too debilitated to be saved.
Working with Xunta, the local wildlife authority
for the Spanish province of Galicia, a building provided by
the forestry department was turned into a rehabilitation center.
Located in Pontevedra this facility includes a kitchen to
prepare food for the birds, a stabilization room with holding
pens where they are tubed with fluids and nourishment, facilities
for blood tests, a wash and rinse area, and recovery pools.
This center is now almost at capacity. Following discussions
between the IFAW Emergency Relief Team and the Regional Environment
Minister of Galicia, Carlos Del Alamo, who visited the rehab
center on Sunday, plans are now under way to find a much larger
The seas around the coastal islands close to
Pontevedra are a national maritime park and one of the countrys
most important areas for migratory birds and other marine
wildlife. Many seabirds live the majority of their lives
out at sea, and only come ashore to nest. A sad reality is
that we will never see those victims. This includes such species
as the extremely rare and endangered Balearic shearwater.
We are treating one now which arrived in critical condition,
but very few will even make it to the shore, said Jay
Holcomb. Birds currently being cared for include gannets,
scoters, razorbills, puffin, guillemots, gulls, and cormorants.
So far, the number of live birds collected and
brought to the center is more than 350, although the total
number of animals impacted in most large spills is never known.
"We are expecting another 100 birds today, and if the
immense oil slick currently out at sea does hit in a few days
time, we may see much larger numbers of wildlife coming ashore.
We need to be prepared for that possibility," said Holcomb.
"We have received a tremendous response from the
local people and have many volunteers helping. We could not
be doing this work without the cooperation of many organizations
and people, including Xunta, IFAW and the hundreds of local
people who have volunteered their efforts to help the birds
and other wildlife affected by this disaster.
Californias Oiled Wildlife Care Network
for which IBRRC manages two facilities (Cordelia and San Pedro)
is considered the model response and rehabilitation organization
in the world. The OWCN is funded by Office of Spill Prevention
and Response (OSPR) and operated by the University of California
Davis Wildlife Health Center.
Donations may be made on the IBRRC
website (www.ibrrc.org) or my mail to: IBRRC, 4369 Cordelia
Road, Cordelia, CA 94534.
Return to list of
Please DO NOT call our centers for Spain
Office: (831) 622-7588
Nick Jenkins (IFAW ER Team - Pontevedra, Spain) 011 44 7799 883355.
Jennifer Ferguson-Mitchell (IFAW) US Tel: 1 (508) 737-1584; mobile