a deadly day for wildlife
Five years ago today, an enormous container ship called the Cosco Busan slammed into the Bay Bridge and dumped over 53,000 gallons of toxic bunker fuel into the San Francisco Bay.
Seabirds started washing up on Bay Area beaches, coated in thick, foul-smelling gunk and shivering with hypothermia and stress.
As the tragedy unfolded, WildCare became a focal point of rescue efforts. Our first oiled patient was a Surf Scoter so black and sticky she was almost unidentifiable-- click to see her story in photos.
WildCare admitted over 20% of the recovered oiled birds. We provided warmth, fluids and other stabilizing treatment before rushing them to the washing stations set up by the Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN), of which WildCare is a member.
Why Oil Is So Deadly to Birds
Although the entire San Francisco Bay ecosystem is affected by
the oil spill, it is the waterfowl who float and feed on the surface
that are the hardest hit.
Ocean-going birds have very special feather adaptations that allow
them to stay warm in chilly ocean waters. The feathers of these birds weave tightly together to create a warm,
impermeable barrier, keeping body heat in and cold water out.
causes feathers to clump and stick, and disengages these carefully
overlapping feathers, allowing cold water access to the bird's skin.
This means the bird cannot control its own body
Imagine sitting in San Francisco Bay with a
wet towel wrapped around your body all day and all night, and you'll have an idea of what an oiled bird experiences in a catastrophe like
Birds recognize the dangers of hypothermia, so their immediate
instinct is to clean the oil off themselves (called preening).
Unfortunately preening causes them to ingest the oil which poisons the
Weakened by cold and ingestion of the toxic oil,some birds end up on beaches and other areas where it's possible to rescue them. It is heartbreaking to think of all of the thousands of birds that never reach shore and die sitting in the cold water.
Once rescued, birds are kept warm and given fluids until they are stable enough to be washed. Unfortunately, the cleaning process is incredibly stressful for the birds, but it is the only way to remove the oil. Click for a PDF that shows the whole cleaning process step by step!
The Facts of the Spill
On November 7, 2007, the fully-loaded container ship M/V Cosco Busan
struck a fender on a structural tower of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay
Bridge while leaving the Port of Oakland. An estimated 53,569 gallons of
bunker fuel oil were released into San Francisco Bay through a gash in
the ship’s hull. The oil spill caused widespread injury to natural
resources and natural resource services, including:
||more than 6,800 birds of 65 different species were killed including the
threatened marbled murrelet, the threatened western snowy plover and
||as much as 29% of the winter 2007 – 2008 herring spawn in San Francisco Bay was lost due to egg mortality
||over 3,300 acres of shoreline habitat were oiled including lands managed
by Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service and U.S. Fish and
||over 1,000,000 human recreational user-days on public shorelines were lost
WildCare's Role During and After the Spill
The spill stretched the resources of WildCare and other wildlife organizations to the limit. Overall, 20% of the recovered oiled wildlife from the spill passed through WildCare's doors.
WildCare is a proud member of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN) a legislatively mandated program within the California Department of Fish and Game Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) which strives to ensure that wildlife exposed to petroleum products in the environment receive the best achievable treatment by providing access to permanent wildlife rehabilitation facilities and trained personnel for oil spill response within California.
Final Damage Assessment and Restoration Plan
In March of 2012, state and federal trustee agencies released the Cosco Busan Oil Spill Final Damage Assessment and Restoration Plan (DARP). The document summarizes the injuries to wildlife, habitat, and recreational uses from the Cosco Busan oil spill and describes a number of restoration projects that will be implemented to compensate for injuries from the spill.
Click to read the DARP and find out what the selected restoration projects are!
HAZMAT and Oil Spill Response Training
After this spill, the Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN) revamped their training program for future oil spill responders. Classes focus on expanding the team of trained volunteers able to rescue oiled animals and assist in clean-up efforts.
In general, OWCN only accepts trainees with previous animal-handling experience and recommendations from participating agencies.
WildCare volunteers donated hundreds of hours not only to our hospital's efforts, but also to bathing birds, cleaning up beaches and rescuing oiled animals with OWCN and International Bird Rescue.
Becoming a WildCare volunteer not only gives you an incredible opportunity to work with, learn about and heal ill, injured and orphaned wild animals, it also places you within a network of people eligible to take OWCN classes in oil spill response.
Click for more information on WildCare's volunteer program.
Click to learn how you can help in the event of another oil spill!