Well surprise, surprise. The news media and the blogs—including a few that should know better (*cough* Treehugger)—have been bursting at the seams with euthanasia bloodlust for oil-soaked birds. But IBRRC, the actual experts doing the work of bird rescue and research, is pushing back. Silvia Gaus, the German biologist who everyone is quoting, is basing her opinion on bad and outdated science.
Mark Russell, a project manager at the IBRRC, took strong issue with Gaus’ claim that cleaning is ineffective: He told me that the studies on which she based her conclusions suffered from some gaps in procedure. (For example, what were the rehabilitation practices? Did the monitoring equipment that was strapped onto the released birds contribute to their demise? If you can no longer locate a bird with a transmitter, should you always assume that the bird died?)
Other studies indicate that the survival rate for cleaned-up birds can be quite high, from 78 to 100 percent. And as bad as those oily pelicans may look in the pictures from Louisiana, Russell said it’s often the oiliest birds that have the highest survival rate. That’s because they tend to be picked up earlier, before dehydration, hypothermia and other ills have set in.
Russell said there was once a long-running debate over whether the stress of rehabilitation does the birds more harm than good. (Research shows that it doesn’t.)
IBRRC also points to a National Geographic report that further debunks Gaus.
Each oil spill is different, however, and survival rates often depend on factors such as climate and species, according to Nils Warnock, a wildlife specialist with the Oiled Wildlife Care Network.
No one knows what the survival rate will be for the Gulf species affected by the oil spill. But, Warnock said, “I don’t believe that all these birds that are being rehabilitated for the Deepwater Horizon spill will end up dying.”
He added that Gaus’s statistics are related to past North Sea oil spills, where birds are more prone to freezing after oil has compromised their natural waterproofing.
So there you have it. Clean, rescue, and care for oil-soaked birds. Don’t kill them.