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Decemeber 11, 2007

Cordelia, CA

Deadly December

Birds continue to be affected by oil and environmental problems

The numbers of birds affected by the Cosco disaster and other factors continues to rise. “Every time we think we have a break, something starts up again,” said Jay Holcomb, Director of International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC). “The end of 2007 has been very hard on aquatic birds off the coast of Northern California, with a multitude of species being affected by oil as well as other issues, one of which we have never encountered before.”

Birds rescued from up and down the coast continue to arrive daily to The San Francisco Bay Oiled Wildlife Care & Education Center in Cordelia (SFBOWEC) a specialized rehabilitation facility for oiled birds that is managed by IBRRC. The reasons range from crude oiling to healthy adult birds that have lost their waterproofing due to a mysterious algae dying off and creating a slick on the water surface

From tiny Snowy Plovers to Endangered Brown Pelicans, the number of species affected keeps climbing. How many birds have actually died will never be known because not all bodies are recovered and many are scavenged or taken out to sea on currents.

Over 40 species, including three endangered species, rarely seen pelagic birds like fulmars, rhinoceros auklets and common coastal birds like Western and Clark’s grebes have been brought to the SFOWCEC since November 7th when the first spill victims were rescued. “We thought the domoic acid event off the coast of Southern California in April 2007 was bad; now that pales in comparison to this as far as the amount of live birds we have received,” said Holcomb. It’s been a tough year for both birds and wildlife rehabilitation experts alike.

Less followed in the news has been a mysterious event about one hundred miles south of San Francisco in the Moss Landing/Monterey Bay area. On November 10, grebes, surf scoters, loons and other near-shore birds began beaching themselves. Something on the surface of the water, possibly related to an algae bloom, caused the birds to loose their waterproofing. First thought to be a clear vegetable or fish oil, possibly dumped by a restaurant or boat, tests came back negative for oil.

As of today, 565 live birds and 82 dead birds have been logged in as “Moss Landing Mystery Spill.” Holcomb adds “To date 340 of these birds have been rehabilitated and released.”

Since the Cordelia center was dealing with a major oil spill, 85 of the first captured Moss Landing/Monterey birds were driven to the Los Angeles Oiled Bird Care & Education Center, LAOBCEC, managed by IBRRC, in Southern California.

Then on the heels of the oil spill and the mystery spill came a storm that stirred up more crude oil and impacted a number of common murres and more wet birds from the Santa Cruz to Monterey area. “Over the last weekend we received an additional 15 crude oiled murres and over 15 mystery algae covered birds”, said Holcomb.

Large numbers of weak and starving northern fulmars have also been showing up on the same beaches. Natural die offs like this are seen from time to time and it is not clear why these birds are starving. Holcomb says, “Birds affected by domoic acid, oil spills or mystery spills are not like dying fulmars that may be the result of a natural die off of young birds. For the most part these spill impacted birds are healthy, viable birds and are worthy of our care. They are being impacted by an unnatural contaminant that is in the water. We typically have great success in rehabilitating these birds if they are rescued in time,” Holcomb said.

More information about IBRRC, their work, their partnerships or to make a donation visit their website at http://www.ibrrc.org.

More information:

Cosco Busan oil spill

Moss Landing Mystery Spill

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