Oil Spills Don't Have To Mean Wildlife Is All Washed Up

Animal Lovers Say Their Work Is For The Birds

September 13, 1990|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,SUN STAFF

For the love of ducks and other living things, Lynn Johnson and Susan Thompson wrestled a goose before a live audience this week.

They were getting a hands-on lesson in what Guy Hodge of the Humane Society of the United States calls "Bird Washing 101," a growing specialty in the science of oil spill cleanup. Goggled and aproned, the two women checked the feisty goose for injury, cleaned its nostrils and mouth, fed it sugar solution through a tube and took its temperature.

Johnson, of Cockeysville, Baltimore County, and Thompson, of Parkville, Baltimore County, were among 115 volunteers who showed up for Hodge's third session this year at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Annapolis. The site has become one of just three centers in the country prepared to treat large numbers of oil-fouled birds and mammals.

FOR THE RECORD - A photograph caption on Page 4 of yesterday's The Arundel County Sun incorrectly described the purpose of a catheter used in a wildlife rescue procedure. The catheter is used to feed the animal and help restore its strength.

Johnson said she was drawn to the session out of "a love of ducks, being an animal lover. Just seeing the tragic consequences of what happened in Alaska," after the Exxon Valdez spill in Prince William Sound.

Frank C. Branchini, executive director of the Anne Arundel County SPCA, said the old shelter building where the training session was conducted this week will be equipped with a new hot water heater and new hose connections to serve as a rescue center. The center would be pressed into service in the event of a spill anywhere along the bay, Hodge said.

But even with hundreds of volunteers, Hodge said, a rescue center could probably figure on picking up only about 1 percent of the birds affected by a major oil spill. And of that number, only half could be expected to survive.

In the case of an endangered species, though, Hodge said that could be significant.

Hodge, who is based in Washington, told the group that many birds are injured in the smaller day-to-day oil spills -- from boats, industry or overturned tanker trucks -- that drop about 100,000 gallons of oil a year into the Chesapeake. He showed an aerial view slide of Annapolis Harbor with oil sheens visible in patches on the water. To a sea bird, he said, those patches look like an inviting landing area of calmer water.

Hodge said a bird that hits a patch of oil faces the greatest immediate danger not from oil poisoning, but from the cold. The oil mats their feathers, rendering the plumage useless for waterproofing and insulation. "The astonishing thing is how little a patch of oil it takes to kill a bird," said Hodge, showing a slide of a water bird that died from hypothermia as cold air seeped into its skin through an oil blot no larger than a duck's footprint.

"Oil contamination of wildlife constitutes a medical emergency," and should be treated as such, Hodge said. Using slides of previous rescue efforts, Hodge described the process of capturing an oiled bird, checking it for injuries, fortifying it with fluids and rest, and preparing it for cleaning. According to the University of California at Berkeley, a pioneer in bird rescue research, Dawn dish-washing liquid in a 1 percent to 5 percent solution is tops for washing an oiled bird.

The volunteers who took part in the demonstrations at the end of Tuesday's session did not practice actual bird-washing, but they did get the feel of how to examine and tube-feed a bird. Hodge said that treating oil-fouled mammals such as beavers or otters is best left to experts. Mammals are usually too strong to be handled by amateurs, he said.

For the demonstration, four domestic ducks and two geese were donated by a woman in Prince George's County. Johnson and Thompson got the toughest bird of all, a female goose that wanted no part of it.

"That's good," Johnson said of the struggle with the goose. "If you have a difficult one you know you can handle an easy one."

Thompson, who had pet ducks as a kid, admitted that trying to control the animal "made me sweat ... I never got that close to a goose before. That was kind of exciting."

She said reading about the spills in Alaska and off Galveston, Texas, prompted her to attend the session.

"I hope we never have to do it, but it's good to have a good turnout," said Thompson, who works for the Baltimore County Department of Parks and Recreation. "If we have to, we'll be ready."

Copyright The Baltimore Sun 1990

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