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More Oiled Animals Collected as Oil Spill Continues in Gulf

June 7, 2010

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See related story of June 16, "Should oiled birds be saved?"

June 7, 2010

Michael Ziccardi, DVM, PhD, director of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, has been overseeing the rescue and rehabilitation of sea turtles and marine mammals throughout the Gulf of Mexico since April 28 from the command center in Houma, LA.

He spoke via Skype June 7 to media regarding current numbers and the effects of oil on the wildlife along the Gulf coast.

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Ziccardi is working in concert with more than 50 people from NOAA, US Fish and Wildlife Service and other public and private organizations caring for animals, and more than 100 individuals who are collecting birds, mammals and sea turtles. To date, 300 sea turtles have been collected, with 32 being live and visibly oiled and 3 being oiled and collected dead. Thirty-two dead dolphins have been retrieved, of which only two showed obvious signs of oil. All collected animals, visibly oiled or not, are being sampled for further testing for external and internal oil contamination as well as cause of death.

In contrast to the immediate response required by the approximately 65 oil spill events UC Davis has responded to since 1996, Ziccardi says that the fact that the Gulf oil spill took place offshore has allowed time to plan for response. "We're starting to see more animals" every day, he says, but facilities and trained responders are now in place. Stranding networks already in place for sea turtles and other animals are providing species knowledge and established facilities and networks to care for the animals. To this structure, Ziccardi brings the experience of oil spill response and veterinary care.  

Currently, four existing facilities from NOAA’s Southeast Regional Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Stranding Networks and numerous affiliated organizations and partners are making the best care available to sea turtles and marine mammals. Other facilities, people and organizations, including more than forty zoos across the country, are also standing by in case additional assistance is needed.

So far, the biggest worry regarding sea turtles is that long-term damage to the animals' physiology may not be known for some time. While turtles are easier to clean than the birds he is accustomed to rehabilitating, Ziccardi says they will need to be held longer to fully understand the damage associated with internal exposure.

So that the turtles do not face further risk by swimming back into the oil, they are currently being released in Florida.

"We're very aware of this being a drawn-out battle," he says. "We've been fortunate to date, but we're starting to see the effects."

Mike Ziccardi's blog contains personal reflections and updated numbers of animals being cared for in the spill.

For a broader look at the oil spill response, visit the Deepwater Horizon unified command site:

The Oiled Wildlife Care Network has more than 25 members, comprised of world-class aquaria, universities, scientific organizations and rehabilitation groups. In the event of an oil spill in California waters, the network coordinates the rescue, veterinary care and rehabilitation of oiled wildlife. The organization also oversees a research program whose goal is to further the best achievable care for oiled wildlife.

Established in 1994 by the California Department of Fish and Game’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR), the Oiled Wildlife Care Network is administered by veterinarians of the UC Davis Wildlife Health Center in the School of Veterinary Medicine.

This article was updated June 8.

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