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Oil spill hits pelicans hard

Planet Earth

By Allen Johnson, AFP June 6, 2010 7:01 AM

Grand Isle, Louisiana, June 5, 2010 (AFP) - The morning after President Barack Obama’s visit to Grand Isle, a wildlife rescue boat slipped past an orange boom at nearby Queen Bess Island, home to thousands of rare brown pelicans and now under attack from a oil spill.

The rookery "is the worst-hit area in the state in terms of wildlife," Michael Carloss, a state biologist said Saturday. "We don’t know about marine life yet because we don’t know how much of the oil is underwater."



Wildlife experts are scrambling to save the brown pelican, which was removed from the endangered species list in November.

Brown pelicans are the only species of pelican that dive into the water for fish, putting them at greater risk for death by oiling, Carloss said.

Heavily oiled birds can die from exposure (even in the warm Gulf climate), by ingesting the toxic crude, or by drowning.

One wildlife expert at the bird rehabilitation center at Fort Jackson likens oiling to trying to swimming while wearing a raincoat.

Retired Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, who heads the federal government’s response to Gulf Coast disaster, late last week ordered a review of wildlife rescue operations late last week after AFP reported that the president of the Sierra Club complained of insufficient efforts to handle oiled pelicans in Barataria Bay.

As of noon, June 5, 57 "visibly oiled" birds have been found dead since the oil spill began April 20 with the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion off the Louisiana coast, according to government reports.

The death toll - like the 156 visibly oiled birds found alive so far - has more than doubled since June 4, figures reflected in the accounts of boatmen, biologists and rescuers at Grand Isle on Saturday.

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WARNING:  Please be aware that pictures are disturbing.

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