Why are there so few birds captured?

     Two days ago the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) released the latest toll of the wildlife victims from the ongoing oil spill caused by the wreck of the Deepwater Horizon. (see below for post earlier today) So far, 66 live birds have been captured. 478 dead birds have been collected between Louisiana and the Florida Panhandle. The update from USFWS does not break these numbers down by species, but as of 22 May, Brown Pelicans and Northern Gannets constituted the majority of birds.
     Also reported, 16 live sea turtles have been captured, although only 3 of these were visibly oiled.* 224 dead sea turtles have also been collected, and so far 216 of these animals have yet to be confirmed as oiled or not.
     25 dead marine mammals, including an unspecified number of dolphins, have been found, 15 of them in Louisiana. The report did not provide information on the species of turtles or mammals either.
     16 birds and 1 turtle have been released.
     This update came on the heels of the failure of the latest attempt made by engineers at BP to stanch the flow of oil from the blow out, now officially estimated to be flowing at 500,000 to 1,000,000 gallons each day.  Though independent scientists, such as Dr. Ian MacDonald, an oceanographer at Florida State University maintain that 1,000,000 gallons/day is the conservative end of the scale, with credible estimates ranging as high as 4,000,000 gallons/day.
     One of the sad commonplaces of the world today is the image of a bird in oil. Oil spills kill. They kill fish. They kill otters. They kill whales. But birds are killed in oil spills by the thousands, and hundreds of thousands. When a container ship hit the Bay Bridge in San Francisco, November of 2007,  58,000 gallons of bunker fuel spilled into San Francisco Bay.  Within days close to 1100 birds, Surf Scoters, Greater and Lesser Scaup, Western, Clark’s, Eared and Horned Grebes, Bufflehead, Common Murres, even a few Brown Pelicans, and more were captured alive. 2500 were collected dead. It can be extrapolated that thousands more were killed and never found. How many thousands is not clear, but most assessments multiply by a factor of at least 5 and as many as 10 times the number found.
     And it doesn’t take a large spill to produce a high number of casualties. In June 2005, tropical storm Arlene passed through Breton Sound and a small discharge of crude oil from a platform operated by Amerda Hess (about 500 gallons) was swept over nearby South Breton Island. Approximately 1200 nestling Brown Pelicans were covered with oil. The colony failed. 450 birds were brought into care. In the end just over 200 were taken out to North Breton Island, to be released.
       Now we have the worst oil spill in US history, with another 60 days of spilling likely. Yet only 66 birds have been captured alive. If anyone believed that such a low number reflected some miraculously minimal impact, this would be cause for celebration – a bright spot in the nightmare currently unfolding.
       But no one believes that.

this just in – another update from USFWS


efforts to stop leak fail, meanwhile the slick spreads…

     On Saturday, 29 May, BP conceded that their effort to stanch the flow of oil from the wreckage of the Deepwater Horizon using drilling mud, golf balls and other debris had failed. BP and the United States Coast Gaurd have also released their revised estimate of the volume of escaping oil to be somewhere between 500,000 and 1,000,000 gallons per day. This figure comes closer to the estimates that independent scientists have been suggesting since 27 April, when SkyTruth and Dr. Ian MacDonald of Florida State University, first announced an estimate of at least 1.1 million gallons and very possibly much more. Currently the drilling of relief wells, the only proven method of stopping an offshore blowout, begun in early May and not expected to be completed until August,  is reported to be 6,000 feet into the rock.
      Today is the 40th day of this crisis. Every day another million gallons, at least, erupts into the Gulf. By the latest satellite imagery, the slick appears to be well ‘entrained’ in the warm ocean current that flows out of the Gulf of Mexico and becomes the Gulf stream, moving up the East coast of the North America and eventually across the Atlantic to northern Europe.


“If this is true, all our troubles are over.” – William D’Arcy 1908

As coincidence would have it, 26 May could become a pair of bookend dates for BP (formerly British Petroleum, formerly the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC), formerly the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (APOC), formerly the dream of William Knox D’Arcy, extraordinarily wealthy gold mine owner in England who managed to obtain exclusive oil exploration rights to most of Persia)

Tomorrow, 26 May 2010, BP engineers and technicians and laborers and shareholders will try to stop the oil that has been flowing for more than month from a blown out a well a mile beneath the sea.

The plan is to shoot a cementing mud down into the well (- a maneuver that BP is calling Top Kill. There doesn’t appear to be any reason for anyone else to call it that, although many do.) If BP’s CEO Tony Hayward, receives a phone call saying they’ve managed to stop the million or perhaps millions of gallons that currently gush daily, he might well say, “If this is true, all our troubles are over.”

Which would be ironic. For those were the words the above mentioned founder of APOC, Mr D’Arcy, said upon receiving a telegram from Persia, announcing that “oil spewed into the dawn sky,” on this date in 1908.

the information in this post is taken from the History of BP available at BP.com.

more BP history to come – highlights from between the bookends


Updated numbers for birds impacted by Deepwater Horizon Catastrophe via IBRRC

The species treated so far:
10 Northern gannet
6 Brown Pelican
3 Laughing Gull
2 Royal Tern
1 Green Heron
1 Magnificent Frigatebird
1Semipalmated Sandpiper
1Ruddy Turnstone
1 Cattle Egret
1 Sanderling
1 Dunlin

Since 22 May more birds have been captured, and more birds were released too… updates will be in soon…

among the birds released so far have been pelicans, gannets and the green heron…

clipped from www.ibrrc.org


Updated May 22, 2010

Oiled Birds – Mississippi Canyon – BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Wildlife Center

Birds rec’d

In care



Fort Jackson, LA





Theodore, AL





Gulfport, MS





Pensacola, FL










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Catching up: the Deepwater Horizon…

here is a quick encapsulation of the last month of the Deepwater Horizon disaster… so far there havent been large numbers of bird casualties. Around 30 birds have come into care, around 45 have been found dead… 4 birds have been treated and released and about 15 birds are still in care… following this re-cap, we’ll post detailed information on the birds impacted, as well as what we know regarding other wildlife, and the underlying issues at cause in this catastrophe…

It has been over a month now since an offshore well in the Gulf of Mexico has been gushing somewhere between 25,000 and 100,000 barrels of crude oil each day. As of 20 May the resulting slick is “twice the size of New Jersey”, or 16,000 square miles. Right now, there doesn’t appear to be a solution that will stop the flow sooner than the time it will take to drill a relief well, estimated to be 90 days. The relief well was started about 3 weeks ago.

Owned by Transocean, leased and operated by British Petroleum(BP), The Deepwater Horizon, an enormous drilling rig specially built to operate at the edge of the abyss, experienced a fatal blowout 20 April, killing 11 people who were working on the drilling floor. 17 others were injured. 115 people were rescued – survivors describing a harrowing leap from 60 feet high into the night sea.

Over the first month, the slick was some distance from the shoreline. It is likely safe to presume that many victims of the slick during this time died at sea, far from rescue. Few oiled birds have been captured, relative to the thousands of victims that often are seen in spills of much less volume. Six dolphins have been found dead but so far it isn’t known if they were killed by the oil. Nearly two hundred sea turtles have been found dead as well, but again, there is no direct evidence yet linking their deaths to the enormous quantities of oil and chemical dispersants that have been added to the sea. Mike Ziccardi of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network, is on the scene working on the the rescue of impacted sea turtles and marine mammals. His daily web log updates can be seen at the OWCN website, or on Facebook.

Tri-State Bird Rescue, working with local wildlife rehabilitators as well as International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC), and the various federal agencies, has established four wildlife care facilities along the northern Gulf shore: Fort Jackson, Louisiana; Gulfport, Mississippi; Theodore, Alabama; and Pensacola, Florida. Today (22 May) we’ve learned that a Key West facility is also underway.

So far, four birds have been released, apparently driven to the Atlantic coast of Florida, to be out of harm’s way. While Brown Pelicans and Northern Gannets constitute the majority of birds in care so far, there have also been Laughing Gulls, Turnstones, Royal Terns and Herons. As of now only five birds have died in care or been euthanized due to the severity of their conditions.

Because the gushing well is nearly fifty miles from land, this spill has unfolded in a kind of slow motion which has allowed many to observe the mechanics of spill response, as well as the politics. This is perhaps an unusually transparent event, which may allow us another opportunity – to radically improve the nature of our society’s response to industrial calamity. As of now we can certainly see that money and power have undue influence over the official action.

It was three days, after the search for the missing 11 people was called off, after the rig collapsed and sank to the bottom, before reports of a potentially catastrophic spill were widely seen. Even though the fire itself that had burned for two days, extinguished only by the sinking of the rig, was only possible if the blowout preventer had failed. In fact, the United States Coast Gaurd reported the day after the rig sank that mysteriously there appeared to be no spill. This would have required a bit of somewhat magical, though welcome, good luck.

As it developed, this wasn’t the case. Instead we have the worst oil spill to occur in the United States, with real potential for this to be the worst accidental spill in history, second only to the intentional catastrophe in the Persian Gulf during the first Gulf War. Credible reports suggest that the blown out well is gushing 60,000 barrels of crude oil each day, possibly as much as 100,000 barrels. With approximately 75,000,000 gallons now in the water, the wreck of the Deepwater Horizon is already close on the heels of the June 1979 blow out of the exploratory rig Ixtoc 1, which had been operated by Pemex in the southern part of the Gulf Of Mexico. Ixtoc 1 is believed to have put 100-140 million gallons into the Gulf. It took the responders nine and a half months to stop the flow. The damages to wildlife resulting from that disaster aren’t known, due to lack of study.

For more information on the spill:


for the ‘official’ view

next up: the birds in care…. followed by…. BP – up to no good since the early 20th century