The U.S. Coast Guard has reported that about 200 birds were observed to have been oiled to varying extent after a gallon crude oil spill occurred in Bay Long, Louisiana.
More than 6,000 gallons of oily water mixture have been recovered as the Coast Guard, ECM Maritime Services and the Louisiana Oil Spill Coordinator's Office continue to respond to the oil discharge, which have impacted wildlife in the area.
"Approximately 200 birds have been observed as oiled to varying degrees in the Cheniere Ronquille Barrier Island and East Grand Terre Island areas," the Coast Guard said, adding that response crews now work to safely capture oiled wildlife so they can be rehabilitated. Eleven birds and one Kemp's Ridley sea turtle have so far been collected.
A marsh excavator owned by Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co. accidentally cut through a Harvest Pipeline Company pipe while conducting restoration activities, discharging the oil. Workers are already conducting repair on the damaged section of the pipeline that discharged about 5,300 gallons of crude on Sept. 5.
When oil sticks to their feathers, it causes feathers to mat and separate, and this could impair waterproofing and expose the sensitive skin of the animal to extreme temperatures.
Jay Holcomb, a pioneer in oil-spill wildlife rehabilitation who passed away in 2014, once explained that while the initial impact of oil on birds is external, it could have more devastating impact.
"What happens now is that they have these beautiful down jackets, [but once they're oiled] they are unable to insulate themselves from cold and warm weather," Holcomb said.
"They lose their buoyancy in the water, which is why you see them floundering and struggling to get out so they don't drown or get hypothermic."
Birds on instinct attempt to remove the oil from their feathers by preening, but this could also result in them ingesting the oil, which in turn can cause severe damage to their internal organs.
Some birds covered with oil can no longer move because of the oil in their feathers. If left untreated, the oil in their body can kill birds.
Proper vet treatment and the availability of good facilities, however, can help stabilize and feed oiled birds. Once they are ready, these birds can be cleaned by experienced wildlife rescue personnel.