Vets stand ready to help with oil spill

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May 11, 2010
National Report -- Six birds are being treated at the Louisiana State University (LSU) Wildlife Hospital for injuries related to last month’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and some believe the worst is yet to come.

LSU was asked by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to provide medical care for non-oiled animals injured as a result of the oil spill. As of today, six birds were being treated for treatment of injuries like fractures and malnutrition, according to Dr. Javier Nevarez, director of the wildlife hospital.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates 5,000 barrels -- 210,000 gallons -- of oil are spilling into the Gulf of Mexico each day as the result of an explosion that rocked the Deep Water Horizon oil-drilling platform off the coast of Louisiana April 20.

In Florida, Dr. Norman Griggs amassed a group of more than 7,000 volunteers who are keeping watch on the situation and ready to move if the slick fouls wildlife in sensitive ecological areas.

At press time, the oil spill had not reached landfall, which includes the Louisiana coast and St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, as of early May, but Griggs said it was close to the western part of Florida.

Ken Rice, wildlife branch director for operations for the Mobile sector, says several dead sea turtles have washed up on shore, but showed no sign of oiling. Necropsies were being performed on some of the turtles, he said.

BP, who leased the Deep Water Horizon oil rig, contracted with Delaware-based Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research to deal with wildlife involved in the oil spill. Tri-State representatives confirmed they were contracted by BP, but referred all calls to the International Bird Rescue Center.

While offshore efforts are working to contain, collect and disperse the spill, environmental agencies and volunteers are preparing for possible onshore ramifications. Wildlife experts have identified several sensitive areas -- mostly marshlands -- around the Mississippi Sound and the Alabama Delta. Regular helicopter flights are searching the area for injured wildlife. Additionally, rescue centers in Gulfport, Miss., and Fort Walton Beach and Panama City, Fla., also have been established for turtles and mammals.

The NOAA is restricting fishing until May 17 in federal waters affected by the BP oil spill -- between Louisiana state waters at the mouth of the Mississippi River to waters off Florida’s Pensacola Bay. NOAA reports that the closed area comprises only 4.5 percent of the Gulf of Mexico federal waters. The vast majority of Gulf waters have not been affected by the oil spill and continue to support productive fisheries, they said.

Read more in the June issue of DVM Newsmagazine.