As I watch the pictures of birds coated with oil flash across my television screen, my heart aches for all the living creatures who call the gulf coast home. I feel especially bad for the pelicans who were making a comeback from brink extinction. Working with wildlife is a bittersweet endeavor because of the high death rate. Even though their medical issues are being treated, many will succumb to the stress associated with capture, treatment and confinement.
During my senior year of veterinary school, I spent two weeks at an animal hospital on Anna Maria Island, Florida. I spent hours removing oil from several cormorants that a volunteer brought in. These diving birds suffered from hypothermia and dehydration after swimming through an oil slick at a local marina. We administered warm fluids mixed with activated charcoal to help absorb the oil and then placed the birds in incubators.
Once they were stable, the cleaning began. Removing oil is a delicate and pain-staking process. It sticks to feathers with unbelievable tenacity, like glue. We covered the oiled feathers with soap and started to scrub from the head down to the tail. If the bird became too stressed, we sprayed it off and returned it to the incubator to rest. It was grueling work.
Three days later, I gave the only bird who survived a breakfast of fish before its release. Later, I watched with a mixture of joy and sadness as the young female swim away from shore. I was happy for her but sad for the other four that didn’t make it.
So, I dedicate this post to all the people working to save the oil-soaked animals in the Gulf of Mexico. Thank you for your service. Thank you for your love. I know the work is tiring and depressing at times, but know that each animal you rescue is priceless.