Gulf Oil Spill Animal Victim Tally May Be Misleading

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This week I caught up with Jay Holcomb, executive director of the International Bird Rescue Research Center, which is working with other groups to save animals affected by the recent Gulf oil spill.

According to the IBRRC, the following bird victims of the spill have been documented so far:

Fort Jackson, Louisiana Oiled Bird Rehabilitation Center

4 live oiled birds reported

  • 2 brown pelicans
  • 1 northern gannet
  • 1 green heron

3 dead oiled birds

  • 2 northern gannets
  • 1 magnificent frigatebird

Pensacola, Florida Oiled Bird Rehabilitation Center

1 live oiled bird

  • 1 northern gannet

Two of the above birds were cleaned and released at Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge on Monday. It's on the Atlantic coast northeast of Vero Beach, Florida.

(Credit: Les Stone, IBRRC)

Although more birds are expected, the numbers so far haven't been as initially high as those seen after other spills. Some sea turtles have been washing up dead on Mississippi beaches and also in Alabama, but tests are ongoing to determine if the oil spill is to blame.

Casi Callaway, executive director at Baykeeper in Mobile, Alabama, told me that BP has used a chemical dispersant. She said it "has broken up the oil and caused it to break up and sink. Fish and other organisms then think it's food and eat it, leading to long-term problems in the ecosystem as the toxins move through the food chain."

Other animals will likely wash ashore coated in oil in the days to come, but my guess is that, as Callaway and other experts indicate, the wildlife damage caused by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill will be more subtle, lengthy, and potentially more devastating in the long-run.

The Gulf region already suffers from a seasonal wildlife "dead zone," so this latest problem only adds to the very long list of human-caused threats to fish, birds, marine mammals and countless species in the region.