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Campus Leads Oiled-bird Rescue in San Francisco

November 8, 2007

Photo: oiled bird held in by two gloved hands

Underneath the oil is a black and white bird with a yellow bill. (Jose Luis Villegas/UC Davis photo)

UC Davis wildlife experts are leading the rescue of oiled birds in San Francisco today after a container ship spilled nearly 60,000 gallons of heavy bunker fuel oil into the bay.

Three veterinarians and a veterinary technician arrived at Fort Mason Wednesday to organize the rescue effort and begin treating injured birds.

At 1 p.m. today, there were 21 seabirds being treated, all of them surf scoters, according to UC Davis veterinarian Michael Ziccardi, director of the California Oiled Wildlife Care Network.

Jonna Mazet, a UC Davis veterinarian and international authority on the rescue and treatment of oiled wildlife, has said in the past that for every oiled seabird that is found washed ashore, an estimated 10 to 100 birds died at sea.

The UC Davis rescue team is working in a custom-built recovery and rehabilitation trailer. There, they assess the health status of oiled birds that are being brought in from beaches and the bay waters.

Then the birds are put in boxes and driven to the San Francisco Bay Oiled Wildlife Care and Education Center in Cordelia (just outside Fairfield), where they will receive the world's most advanced veterinary care for oiled wildlife.

At the center, the first order of business is not to remove oil from the birds. Instead, it is to warm the birds and nourish them. Once stabilized, they will be better able to withstand the stresses of being washed.

The Cordelia center is a 12,000-square-foot, $2.7 million facility capable of caring for up to 1,000 sick birds. It is the major Northern California rescue center in the statewide Oiled Wildlife Care Network, which comprises nine rescue facilities and 25 organizations prepared to care for oiled wildlife on short notice.

At each California rescue center, UC Davis wildlife veterinarians work in partnership with local, trained wildlife rehabilitators. At the Cordelia center, those rehabilitators are staff members of the International Bird Rescue Research Center.

At this time, a standing corps of trained volunteers is being called up to staff the rescue center. If more volunteers are needed, a notice will be posted online at http://www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/owcn/.

The Oiled Wildlife Care Network is managed statewide by the UC Davis Wildlife Health Center, a unit of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

The network is funded by the Office of Spill Prevention and Response of the California Department of Fish and Game. The Fish and Game monies come from interest on the $50 million California Oil Spill Response Trust Fund, built from assessments on the oil industry.

The mission of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network is to ensure that wildlife exposed to petroleum products receive the best possible treatment, by ensuring a rapid response, coordinating effective emergency care in a spill crisis and administering an ongoing research program.

In addition to giving veterinary care, the network funds basic research into the effects of oil on wildlife and applied research into treatments that will improve survival.

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