Rescue Workers Try to Save Oil-Soaked Pelicans

There's no guarantee they will survive, but this could be their only shot.

Eight brown pelicans soaked in sludgy crude oil have arrived at the Oiled Bird Care and International Bird Rescue Center in San Pedro, California, where veterinarians and expert are scrambling to help the seabirds survive.

"They have been very heavily oiled," said Dr. Christine Fiorello of the Oiliced Wildlife Care Network based out of UC Davis. "Anywhere from 90 to 100 percent oiled."

So far, eight brown pelicans have been saved, but the bodies of five oil-soaked bodies of pelicans have been recovered, officials told Reuters Friday. Those being cleaned up and washed in San Pedro are expected to have a good prognosis, "based on the fact that they were captured promptly and getting care right away," according to Fiorello. "We’re lucky for that."

Rescuers also saved two sea lions and one elephant seal from the spill zone since the pipeline ruptured on Tuesday, according to a spokesperson for the cleanup and recovery operations.

The cleanup process is tedious. At first, the birds sit for 48 hours, so they can adapt to the stress of being removed from their environment, Fiorello said.

The team then uses various cleaning chemicals to first loosen the oil from the birds’ feathers before using Dawn dishwashing detergent to finally wash out the oil.

The Oiled Bird Care and International Bird Rescue Center is part of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife's "Oiled Wildlife Care Network," and the closest to the spill near Santa Barbara.

"We have drills, we are getting ready for a spill every day of the year," said Eric Laughlin of Fish and Wildlife. But he said the whole process will take time.

Once the birds are cleaned, they are cared for medically for up two weeks before they are expected to be released back into the wild.

The release is expected to happen in San Pedro, because pelicans are migratory birds and could be released anywhere along the coast, Laughlin said.

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