When Wildlife Needs a Bath

In 2012, Bird Ally X/Humboldt Wildlife Care Center responded to a wildlife crisis – hundreds of juvenile Brown Pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis) were contaminated by fish waste in various ways all around the North Coast. (Read more about the causes and what has been accomplished to prevent this problem here and here and here)

The Northcoast Fish Waste response had several positive outcomes: first we released 80% of our patients – 4 out of 5 impacted Pelicans were returned to their wild lives! Second, as seen at the links provided above, major improvements to public fishing infrastructure radically reduced the potential for injury to Pelicans and other wild animals. Third, we were able to use and demonstrate that more environmentally conscious soaps can be used to clean wildlife, and that the soap we used also reduced stress suffered by our patients during the cleaning process.

pelican 7genBAX staff and volunteers wash a fish-oiled young Brown Pelican in 2012.      photo: Bird Ally X

Bird Ally X was founded by seasoned oiled wildlife response personnel. Each of us has worked many years in this field and we are very familiar with the best available care for oiled wildlife. Our founding staff has responded to oil spills all over the country and internationally as well.

With over 200 Pelicans to wash, we were reluctant to use a detergent that might have a deleterious impact on the enivronment. Fish waste is a natural organic substance, but the detergent that is most closely associated with oiled wildlife response is not exactly something you’d want to dump in the frog pond! So we began to search for detergent that was far less toxic.

After trying several brands advertised as natural, we found Seventh Generation® Free and Clear to be the most effective at removing the fish oil. This soap was far less irritating to the person using it as well. The detergent most commonly used on oiled wildlife can be very harsh to work with over an extended period of time and some people have a very adverse reaction to it, developing rashes, or experiencing burning sensations in their eyes and other unpleasant side effects.

As an excellent, unexpected bonus, Seventh Generation® rinsed out of feathers in half the time it takes to rinse out the standard detergent. This is a huge improvement. Typically, it can take nearly as long to rinse soap from a bird’s feathers as it takes to wash out the oil. While significantly less toxic than petroleum, detergent is also a contaminant to feathers. All of the soap must be rinsed out in order for a bird to be waterproof and able to withstand the challenging marine environment.

We have to balance the need for clean feathers against the patient’s ability to endure the stress of the cleaning process, a process so demanding that it requires each animal to be in relatively stable condition before being washed. Cutting the rinse time in half was an enormous reduction in the stress our patients endure.

Every pelican we washed during that spill was washed using this soap.

That was three years ago. Since then we’ve washed a a large number of wild animals who were contaminated by a wide range of contaminants – fish oil, motor oil, crude oil, vegetable oil, butcher shop waste, food waste from dumpsters, and petroleum distallates. In each case Seventh Generation® performed excellently, as good as any other soap at removing the contaminant. Our first impression, that the soap rinses in half the time as others, still holds true.

In fact, our most recently washed patient, a Common Loon contaminated with crude oil most likely from a natural seep such as occurs on the California coast, was washed with Seventh Generation® and instead of doing the intensive hands-on rinsing procedure, after we were confident the oil was removed, we put her immediately into a warm water pool. Within a day she was fully waterproof! Within a week she was released.

So, while the commercials on television might lead you to believe that only one soap saves wildlife, at Bird Ally X, we disagree. Until we discover a better option, Seventh Generation® is our soap of choice when animals need a bath or they’ll die.

(Are you a wildlife rehabilitator with questions about our experience with this detergent? Please contact us at info@birdallyx.net Thanks!)

(Note: during the Northcoast Fish Waste response, BAX reached out to Seventh Generation for help providing the amount of soap we needed to wash 250 birds… we received a case of their dish detergent at that time – we have received no other support from Seventh Generation in any form since then. This is not an advertisement for their products but a report on the improvements being made in oiled wildlife care.)