Photos via Boston
With the tentatively good news breaking that the oil flow has been halted -- according to BP at least -- it may be time to return the focus to the devastation the spill has wrought. A good place as any to start is with the wildlife. The birds and sea turtles that have fallen victim to the oil slick are among the most public faces of the BP spill's destruction. And recent numbers have revealed that at least 3,000 birds have been covered or killed by the crude. For months, the damage to birds had been thankfully -- and relatively -- small. Casualties (those reported, anyways) were low for a spill of this magnitude, and bird cleaning centers lay idle. When I visited one center near the ground zero of the spill in Louisiana a few weeks into the disaster, there was only one rescued bird there.
Slowly but surely, as the spill expanded, more birds were caught in its wake. But it wasn't until recently, when the oil tragically made landfall on a bird preserve, that the toll hit a massive spike. The LA Times reports:
Biologists say oil has smeared at least 300 to 400 pelicans and hundreds of terns in the largest seabird nesting area along the Louisiana coast -- marking a sharp escalation in wildlife harmed by BP's Gulf of Mexico oil spill ...
Researchers from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology said Wednesday that they had spotted the oiled pelicans on Raccoon Island over the last several days. The spit of land lines the Gulf outside the state's coastal marshes. An estimated 10,000 birds nest on the island in Terrebonne Parish.The brown pelican, the state bird of Louisiana, was just removed from the endangered species list last year. The spill all but guarantees it will return there, potentially in worse shape than ever before.
After a bird has been oiled, its chances for survival are extremely slim -- it only takes a small amount of oil to do internal damage to a bird's organs (they ingest it when they preen their feathers) and it prevents them from adequately regulating their body temperatures. The official daily report on the spill's toll on animal populations (pdf) from the US Fish & Wildlife Service states that as of yesterday, a full 3,128 birds have been claimed by the spill. And that number will only increase from here -- the well might be capped (for now), but the oil is still out there.
More on the Gulf Spill and Wildlife in Danger
The BP Gulf Oil Spill By the Numbers
You Are Still Underestimating How Deadly the BP Gulf Oil Spill Will Be
Oil -Coated Birds Could Be Cooked Alive as Gulf Heats Up (Video)