How to Help Oil Spill Affected Animals

oil spill training

Oiled bird photo by Mila Zinkova; Wikimedia Commons

It is natural when you see your television filled with helpless birds covered in oil to want to do something, anything to help oil spill affected animals. What you may discover when pursuing your desire to help is that opportunities are limited during active oil spills for people without the necessary training. And that’s when frustration and even anger often set in. But, before attacking the professionals working long, exhausting and emotionally draining hours caring for oil-soaked birds, learn a little about the process and the ways in which you can help birds in any oil spill.

It takes more than just picking up a bird covered in oil, and washing it in a kitchen sink, to end up with a bird that when released will survive. In fact, such an action is not likely to result in a bird that survives to be released at all. And this action puts the person at risk of being injured and exposed to the carcinogens from the oil.

The process of getting a bird from an oil-coated state to healthy enough to survive in the wild takes expert care and unique knowledge and skills. It involves first stabilizing each bird so that it survives the 45 to 60 minute wash process. During this time, each bird gets fed a special blended food and hydrated on a schedule. Blood values and weights are monitored for indications that each bird is gaining back its strength. This all may take several days in which the birds must be housed in species appropriate housing, to prevent their keels and feet from developing open sores.

People who wash the birds do so in a way that minimizes the stress on the bird. This means doing it right the first time, yet as quickly as possible. Leaving one spot of oil on the bird prevents the bird from regaining its waterproofing, a condition necessary to surviving a life on water. This requires expertise in water chemistry, use of soaps and other oils to remove the oil, and restoring a bird’s feathers to pristine condition.

The people with training, experience and expertise in the care of oiled wildlife are the first to be called on to help in any oil spill. These people are the most valuable in providing care to the oiled birds, giving the birds the best chances of survival. Usually, during an active oil spill all resources, including staff and volunteers, are used in the actual care of the birds. There are often few resources, including money and workers, left to properly train new volunteers as all attention is focused on the birds. In times when additional help is deemed vital to the care of the birds, people without any experience or training may then be asked to volunteer and go through a rushed training process. Otherwise, your donation of supplies and funds are just a valuable to each oil-soaked bird.

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The Cosco Busan container ship spilled 58,000 gallons of oil into the San Francisco Bay in 2007. Photo by Brocken Inaglory, Wikimedia Commons

The birds are best served by those who already have the training and experience to handle an oil spill crisis. The volunteers working an oil spill got their training before the oil spill occurred. Many volunteered on a regular basis for years to gain the knowledge and experience needed in the general care of birds. These are the people who become invaluable during an oil spill. Get experience working with aquatic birds and training specific to oil spill response now, before a spill occurs, and you will be a valued asset during a spill.

For oil spill training information to properly learn how to help oil spill affected animals, contact one of the two professional oil spill response wildlife centers in the United States. These are Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research in Delaware and the International Bird Rescue in California. These nonprofit organizations respond to spills anywhere in the United States and throughout the world as needed. You can volunteer with either of these organizations or ask for information on oil spill volunteering near you. To gain general wild bird rehabilitation experience, contact your local wild rehabilitation center to volunteer.


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