Saturday, June 05, 2010

Pelicans in BP's Oil Spill

A cap is on what remains of the riser pipe and appears to be containing some of the leaking oil. Whether it will work in the short term remains to be seen. The Oil Drum has a good explanation of how the cap works, as well as screen shots from BP's live feed. Meanwhile tar balls are starting to wash up on beaches in the Florida panhandle. Onshore winds are expected to move more oil in that direction this weekend.

I cannot quite get my head around the images of the oiled birds that I linked to in yesterday's post. It seems that others feel the same way, and I have seen one argument for a Pulitzer for the AP photographer who shot that set of photos.

The New York Times looks at one of the primary avian victims of the oil spill so far, the Brown Pelican.

In 1968, Louisiana took birds from a surviving Florida colony and reintroduced them along the state’s southern coast in three spots. One was Queen Bess Island, which had been the site of one of the last breeding pairs before extinction, said Kerry St. Pé, program director of the nearby Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program.

Still, the birds struggled, threatened this time by the loss of their habitat. The local wetlands, hurt by levees in the Mississippi that blocked sediment from flowing downstream and by canals cut by oil companies looking to lay pipe, were sinking into the gulf at an astonishing rate. Queen Bess was going under as well until 1990, when a coastal restoration project financed a rock barrier around the island, which stabilized it. The pelican colony began to flourish and the birds’ offspring helped repopulate the coastline, Mr. St. Pé said.

Last year, the birds were officially taken off the endangered species list. But the oil spill, experts said, could change that. Like all birds, pelicans are very sensitive to oil, said Melanie Driscoll, director of bird conservation for the National Audubon Society’s Louisiana Coastal Initiative. It prevents them from regulating their body temperature when it gets on their feathers, she said, and in Louisiana the pelicans are subject to overheating. The oil can also poison the fish the pelicans feed on and seep through the shells of pelican eggs, killing the embryos.
On Thursday alone, a rescue center received 29 oiled pelicans, and more are expected.
The birds at the rehabilitation center, said Sharon Taylor, a veterinarian here, represent a lucky few — far more are certain to die in the wild....

Still, she worried that because there are so many large rookeries nearby, far more pelicans would soon be headed to the center.

“Tomorrow or tonight we could get a hundred pelicans, we could get a thousand pelicans,” Ms. Taylor said.
To provide workers with the information they need, Cornell opened access to the full Birds of North America accounts for the 15 bird species threatened by the spill. As far as I know, anyone can read them, so if you want to read up on any of these species, now is the time to do it.