A Week In The Life Of An Oil Soaked Pelican!

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Picture yourself standing on the beach gazing at the most beautiful sunset you have ever seen. Suddenly, just a stone's throw from where you are standing, a pelican in flight becomes silhouetted against the backdrop of the orange ball of the sun. It's an image that will forever give you peace on those random occasions when it comes to mind.

Now see that same sun and the same beach with another pelican being chased over the water by three men in a boat. They're trying to help, not hurt the bird, but it doesn't know that. It just knows that something is terribly wrong!

Its wings won't lift it out of the water. The best it can do is skip over the waves like Jesus running on the water. Its body is covered with heavy red-brown oil that is holding it down. Finally the weary bird quits running and resigns itself to whatever the humans have in mind.

The Pelican's story begins with the gigantic oil leak by the Deep Water Horizon, a drill platform in the Gulf of Mexico about 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana, owned by British Petroleum. Millions of gallons of oil have leaked from a pipe in the bottom of the gulf and despite the best rhetoric by politicians and oil men alike, no end to this crisis appears to be in sight.

Maybe this single rescued animal is one of the lucky birds. According to experts though, less than one percent of seabirds rescued from the sticky, smelly oil will survive the ordeal. Here's how it will go for the bird.

Day One: If it's lucky enough to survive being caught by the men chasing it with a huge dip net, it is put in a cage on the boat and at day's end, all the birds collected that day are taken to a rescue center. Here they are sequestered for up to two days while they hopefully settle down from their experience and are checked for infections and injuries.
Generally the birds are too weak to eat and have to be fed fluids through IV's.

Day Three: The cleansing begins with the pelican being sprayed with a lubricant, usually a canola oil or a mayonnaise based mixture to loosen the oil and grime that is covering birds that have survived the holding period.

Now the washing begins. A diluted form of Dawn Dishwashing Liquid seems to be the detergent of choice for removing the oil from the feathers. The unfortunate bird has to be repeatedly and thoroughly rinsed to ensure that all of the soap has been washed away. Even a small amount of detergent can interfere with the natural oils of the feathers.

Day Four- Six: After thorough rinsings, the Pelican is sent to the grooming room where it is either warmed by a series of lights or pampered with a hair dryer. Then it is sent to another holding area with pelicans which have been through the same treatment. There it is watched for a couple of days to make sure it is well and natural waterproofing is returning to its feathers.
Pelicans and other sea birds that survive all this are farther traumatized by being transported to the Sun Coast Seabird Sanctuary in Indian shores, Florida.

Presumably this is far enough away from the oil spill to be a safe haven for the pelicans. Many of these rescued birds though, miss their home grounds and try to fly back to familiar territory. Some make it back to the oil covered waters of the gulf.

All this is a very simplified version of the rescue attempts to save oil drenched seabirds. Their survival depends on how long they were exposed to the mess, the bird's age and physical condition at the time of exposure.

Unfortunately, only a few out of the thousands of birds from Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida and Alabama will be saved. Of those rescued, less than one percent will survive the oil and the stress of their rescue. Such a loss for us all!

Bob Alexander is well experienced in outdoor cooking, fishing and leisure living. Bob is also the author and owner of this article. Visit his sites at:

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Bob Alexander is a son of the south having learned to enjoy barbecue, leisure and living and telling fish stories. He has lived every facit of the articles he writes about affairs of the heart.

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