Wildlife managers give wildlife a fighting chance
The Wildlife Forecast
Tuesday, June 01, 2010
Media contact: Patricia Behnke
I find myself unable to write about anything but
the oil spill this month as my colleagues at the Florida Fish and
Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) prepare for what might
happen in the coming weeks. As I prepared to finish the column,
scientists concluded that the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is the
worst in our nation's history.
For more than a month, FWC biologists and support
staff have prepared for the potential effect oil might have on our
wildlife living near the coast of Florida. So far, Florida has seen
no impacts as of June 1. We hope it remains that way, but if the
tide should change, the FWC and partner agencies stand ready to do
what they can to lessen the impacts on our precious fish and
Oil spills in other parts of the world give our
biologists some basis for determining how wildlife might be
affected. Direct contact with oil or consumption of oil-tainted
items can cause some serious health problems for wildlife, from
skin irritations to organ failure and breathing problems, all of
which can lead to death.
The Washington Post reported some of the early
impacts seen by the wildlife in one area of the Louisiana coast:
shorebirds dunking their heads in the oily water, trying to wash
off the oil residue, and pelicans not able to flap their wings.
"There are few studies conducted on the long-term
effects of oil on wildlife," said Carol Knox, one of the oil
response wildlife leads and manatee management coordinator for the
FWC. "It's been documented that mangroves, corals, shorebirds and
other wildlife can die from the effects. However, we don't have any
data on manatees, but we can make theoretical assumptions, because
we know that manatees are air-breathers and have to come to the
surface to breathe frequently."
Therefore, the manatee, along with dolphins and
whales, could be exposed to volatile chemicals during inhalation,
It is said that with a natural phenomenon, animals
know instinctively what to do. During the tsunami in 2008,
very few animals perished. The wildlife fled for higher ground long
before the ocean surge wiped out their habitat. It's speculated
they could feel the earth's vibrations for the coming earthquake.
Folks in the Everglades say wildlife are often the harbinger of
impending storms. Gators head for their holes in the mud and birds
hunker down or flee, sensing what they need to do to survive the
floodwaters and high winds.
But what's a pelican to do when the oil arrives
onshore unannounced and covers its home, food and breeding grounds?
It gets oiled.
"Individuals should not go out on the beaches to
attempt to rescue these animals," Knox warned. "The oil covering
them is highly toxic, and untrained individuals could do more harm
than good to the wildlife by adding to their distress."
We all want to help, and the FWC appreciates all
the folks who have stepped forward to assist. However, rescuing
wildlife requires skill and knowledge of the species. Shorebirds
and seabirds are vulnerable right now because many of them are
nesting. Sea turtles are nesting now and those eggs will begin
hatching in July. We can all help by staying out of areas clearly
marked as nesting areas and refrain from driving vehicles on the
beach. Go to MyFWC.com/OilSpill for complete information and links
on the oil spill.
Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research teamed up with
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to oversee the
wildlife-rehabilitation response if needed in Florida. A process
has been put in place for becoming a trained wildlife rehabilitator
in this crisis. Also, Volunteer Florida is keeping tabs on
opportunities for volunteers who are needed for other meaningful
activities relative to the oil spill. Visit www.volunteerfloridadisaster.org for more
Florida has been given the luxury of time to
prepare if the oil should make its way to our shores. Let's use the
time wisely and work together to save our valuable resources.