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Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill 2010
Saving the Animals & How You Can Help
Responsible Pet Owner Column
Submitted to BuzzYahoo.com, May 2010

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In 1989 the US suffered the largest oil spill disaster of its time. Our nation's coastal
marine wildlife was in danger and under attack by the toxicity of the oil that poured
into the Prince William Sound, Alaska. The Exxon Valdez disaster that year claimed
and killed an estimated 250,000 seabirds, 2,800 sea otters, 300 harbor seals, 250
bald eagles, and as many as 22 killer whales died.

After our nation lost over 253,000 coastal wildlife The Oiled Wildlife Care Network
was established and has become the world's leading expert and most
sophisticated spill/rescue program.

The UC Davis Wildlife Health Center School of Veterinary Medicine manages
California’s Oiled Wildlife Care Network and wrote the National Response
Guidelines— for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National
Marine Fisheries Service. This National Response Guide is considered the most
comprehensive oil spill rescue program and serves as the benchmark for other
countries on how to properly handle, rescue and care for marine wildlife in the event
of an oil spill disaster.

Veterinarian Michael Ziccardi is currently heading the rescue and recovery efforts
from the damages caused the Deepwater Horizon oil rig near Louisiana. Dr.
Ziccardi is the Associate Professor of Clinical Wildlife Health at the UC Davis
Wildlife Health Center. He is also the director of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network.

The Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill has the potential to poison, endanger and kill marine
mammals in a variety of ways. The UC Davis Wildlife Heath Center and Dr. Ziccardi
have outlined an informational website dedicated to help the public learn how our
coastal wildlife can suffer from exposure to an oil spill. With years of experience and
research, preparation and planning the Oiled Wildlife Care Network, headed by Dr.
Ziccardi, is currently working to set up rescue and clean up efforts that will help to
save the coastal marine wildlife from the devastating effects of the 2010 Deepwater
Horizon oil spill.

There are two kinds of oils that can spill into the ocean that can harm the
environment and endanger wildlife. Crude and bunker oil are both considered sticky
oils that are harder to clean up and last longer in the environment due to their heavy
weight. Petroleum products are non-sticky oils that float on the surface of the water
and clean up efforts are reported to be faster and easier. The Deepwater Horizon oil
rig spilled thick sticky crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico which is what makes the
negative impact so severe and why states, organizations and crews of individuals
are being mobilized to assist with the rescue and recovery of wildlife.

Both crude/sticky oil and petroleum/non-sticky oil will cause injury to animals in
different ways. However, the properties of both can harm the wildlife where they will
present with similar symptoms and die of the same causes—Oil Poisoning.
In the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill, where crude sticky oil was spilled into the ocean, Dr.
Ziccardi alerts us to these dangers when you mix oil with wildlife:


The Effects of Oil on the Skin

Adult whales and dolphins have a thick blubber layer that protects them from the
cold water. Oil that comes into direct contact with skin or the mucous membranes
can pose danger. For young whales and dolphins who haven't developed their
blubber yet they can suffer painful chemical burns that could become infected.

How Internal Organs Can be Damaged by Oil

If a whale or dolphin swallows oil or eats oiled prey, their gastrointestinal tract can
be damaged. They cannot easily digest or absorb food. As they try to break down oil
and filter it their kidneys and liver can become damaged. Their respiratory tract can
be injured by oil fumes leading to inflammation and pneumonia.

Oil Limits the Reproduction of mammals

The data is limited on the effect of oil spills and reproduction of whales and dolphins
- but there are some reports that date back to 1989 after the Exxon Valdez oil tanker
disaster. Killer Whales also called Orcas were found to have lost about 40% of their
numbers of 2 pods. These pods of whales loss females that could reproduce and
only about half of the newborn calves are surviving now.


How Oil Harms Skin & Feathers

The feathers of birds are insulated and the oil removes this insulated shield which
allows cold water to seep in next to the skin. This cold water will lower an oiled birds
body temperature. The bird's metabolism will increase to combat their lower body
temp. This means their bodies will need more food. The oiled birds do not float well
and will not be able to easily swim or forage for food. They also can't fly if their
feathers are covered in oil because the weight of the oil makes it impossible for
them to fly properly. If the oil seeps into or sits on their skin, they can suffer skin
burns and eye irritations.

Oil Damages Internal Organs
Birds preen themselves to maintain the insulated layer of their feathers. When their
bills touch their oiled feathers, they swallow oil. This can cause gastrointestinal tract
damage, ulcers, diarrhea and the inability to absorb nutrients. If the volatile
compounds of oil is inhaled by the bird, it can lead to pneumonia and neurological
damage. Absorption of chemicals can also lead to cancer. Because birds can
swallow the oil through preening their feathers, their body will try to digest the oil
which will damage their liver and kidneys. The stress of being oiled, can damage or
destroy the blood cells that carry oxygen and fight infections.

Oil Hurts the Reproduction of Water Foul Wildlife
One study reported that a single drop of oil on eggs from different species of birds
lead to significant mortality and developmental defects in embryos. Oiled birds have
also been reported to abandon hatchlings or reduce their breeding activities.

Saving Coastal Marine Wildlife
Animals rescued  by the Oiled Wildlife Care Network arrive at one of the network's
emergency rooms located at a university research center. The network collects
detailed physical information about every animal they receive. Once input into their
database, their information helps to improve the short-term and long-term care and
health of oiled animals.

400 species of coastal marine wildlife are threatened by the oil spill including birds,
mammals and amphibians. 25 million neo-tropical birds pass through the Gulf of
Mexico every day. Late spring is a busy time for migrating water fowl moving from the
Yucatan peninsula to Louisiana. The Brown Pelican, Louisiana's state bird, is also
vulnerable because they were just removed from the endangered species list.

After the Exxon Valdez spill, rescuers established emergency vet hospitals in weeks
and were only able to save 801 birds and 197 otters, who were rehabilitated and
released. With today's disaster, we are confident that the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill will
not devastate our coastal wildlife. We trust and thank the Oiled Wildlife Care Network
for years of preparation and planning and heading this rescue mission. We will be
following Dr. Ziccardi's blog and look forward to updates over the next weeks and
months as everyone works to recover from the overwhelming effects of the
Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig Spill, one of our Nation's largest environmental disasters.

To REPORT Injured Wildlife
If you know anyone that lives on the Gulf Coast, and they have spotted injured wildlife
affected by the spill, tell them to call BP's oiled wildlife retrieval hotline
at 866-557-1401.

To SEND MONEY for Financial Assistance
1. If you would like to make a donation, you can log onto
www.tristatebird.org. Tri-
State Bird Rescue & Research is the organization that treated the first oiled bird from
the spill.

2. If you want to support emergency crews for helping animals, the New Orleans-
based Audubon Nature Institute is setting up triage units in the Gulf area to treat sea
turtles and marine mammals like sea otters. You can long onto
or call 504-861-5107.

3. The International Bird Rescue Research Center has a team of specialists ready
to assist with the wildlife rescue efforts too. If you are interested in volunteering, you
can call the BP Community Support Team Hot line at 866-448-5816.

4. Mobile Baykeeper in Alabama is an environmental group that will be helping in the
cleanup efforts. Donations can be made at

5. The Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary based in Tampa Florida, the largest wild bird
hospital in the US is asking for volunteers and donations. To help with relief efforts
that may happen in Florida you can visit

To VOLUNTEER to Help with Clean Up & Rescue Efforts
Volunteers are now being recruited on a state-by-state basis and updated on the
Deepwater Horizon Facebook page (open to the public). BP is also coordinating and
deploying thousands of volunteers who are offering their help. If you would like to
obtain volunteer information, please call 1-866-448-5816.

Two ways to track the event are to visit the Deepwater Horizon Response Site
) and to visit the Deepwater Horizon
Response Facebook page (

For up to date rescue information check out the Oiled Wildlife Care Network blog

Individual states are also working with volunteers.
States that are mobilizing volunteers are:

Volunteer Louisiana
‘Louisiana Shore Clean-up’ Facebook Group

Pascagoula (MS) River Audubon Society -

Alabama Coastal Foundation:

Mobile Bay National Estuary Program:
Mobile Bay NEP Facebook Group: ‘Help Save the Gulf Coast from the Oil Leak’

Mobile Baykeeper:

Alabama Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau:
Contact the state-organized volunteer bank by dialing 2-1-1 or 888-421-1266

Volunteer Florida

Main Sources for this article:
Oiled Wildlife Care Network:
UC Davis Health Center:
Oiled Wildlife Care Network Blog:
Australian Maritime Safety Authority:

Yahoo The Daily Green:

ABC News:

Donald and Sara Hassler are co-authors of the award-winning children’s book,
Loving Marley, and reside in Connecticut with Marley and Belle the real-life
inspiration for the PugTale Adventures storybooks
www.lovingmarley.com.  The
Hasslers are active members of the press through the Dog Writers Association of
America and write exclusive feature articles for several publications.  Their column
The Responsible Pet Owner and Ask Aunt Martha...  are published in print in Pug
Talk Magazine.  Donald and Sara and Marley and Belle, write, produce and host
their own talk radio show called The Responsible Pet Owner. Visit them online at

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