UC-Davis veterinarian to lead Oiled Wildlife Care Network efforts on Gulf Coast

UC-Davis veterinarian to lead Oiled Wildlife Care Network efforts on Gulf Coast

May 17, 2010
By dvm360.com staff
Davis, Calif. – Veterinarian Michael Ziccardi is coordinating plans to protect and rescue sea turtles and other marine mammals along the Gulf Coast in the wake of the BP oil spill, the University of California-Davis reports.

As oil began to make landfall today along the Louisiana coastline, Ziccardi, an associate professor of clinical wildlife health at the UC-Davis Wildlife Health Center and director of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network, said that as long as most of the spill stays off the Gulf shoreline, the animals most at risk are sea turtles. Whales and smaller cetaceans are also at risk it they swim through the area, the university reports.

If the oil reaches the shoreline, it could have serious impact on marine seabirds, such as brown pelicans. The Mississippi Flyway is a critical thoroughfare for migratory birds, and is now experiencing its peak migratory period, Ziccardi adds.

According to the veterinary school, oil's potential effects on the marine mammals found in the Gulf of Mexico include:

• Skin: Oil that directly contacts the skin and mucous membranes can cause painful chemical burns that may become infected.

• Internal organs: Swallowing oil, or eating oiled prey, can injure a dolphin or whale's gastrointestinal tract, which can cause direct damage or impair the ability to digest and absorb food. Metabolism of absorbed oil components by the kidney and liver can damage those organs as well. Oil fumes can irritate or injure the respiratory tract, leading to inflammation and pneumonia.

• Reproduction: “Data are limited; among orcas after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil tanker disaster, the worst oil spill in United States history, two pods lost approximately 40 percent of their numbers. Since that time, the reproductive capacity of these pods has been reduced by the loss of females, and only about half of newborn calves are surviving. sea turtles and marine mammals, such as manatees, along the Gulf Coast,” the university reports.