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