By Hilary Corrigan
Triplicate staff writer
About 30 western gulls rescued last week from a brown oily substance in Crescent City Harbor continue recovering at the Oiled Wildlife Care Network in Cordelia, Calif.
"We'll hopefully be releasing birds soon," said Greg Massey, a veterinarian with the network out of the University of California at Davis' veterinary school.
On Jan. 7, area volunteers from Crescent City-based Flight Feathers Wild Bird Rescue and Northcoast Marine Mammal Center responded to a call of struggling birds in the harbor.
They found the juveniles coated in brown, fishy-smelling glop and used nets to catch the flailing animals that could no longer fly.
"It was a lot of running on rocks and up docks and down docks," said Judy Hammond, co-founder of Flight Feathers Wild Bird Rescue.
The substance stripped the birds' feathers of waterproofing capability, leaving them unable to stay warm and fight off hypothermia. It also kept them from floating, causing them to sink in the water.
Volunteers trucked the birds to the center in Beachfront Park, where they used feeding tubes to hydrate and stabilize them.
Oiled Wildlife Care Network workers arrived early Jan. 8 to bring the animals to the Cordelia facility.
The rehabilitation process includes more hydrating and feeding, before hand-cleaning them in hot water and dishwashing soap. That process entails washing and rinsing the birds in several tubs of water ¬ó set at specific water pressure and temperatures ¬ó followed by dryers. Caretakers then release the birds to pools of warm water until their feathers regain their waterproofing ability and can protect against cold water.
"A lot of people think you basically take 'em in and wash 'em and clean 'em," Massey said of the procedure that takes up to 10 days. "There's a lot more to it than that."
Rescuers plan to release the birds once they reach their regular weight. Two birds died in the process.
"That's not unusual," Massey said. "The rest of them are all doing fine."
The incident seems to have affected only the western gulls, said Lanni Hall, director of Northcoast Marine Mammal Center that serves as an oil spill response site.
"The only indication that anything had happened was the birds," Hall said.
The substance that coated the birds came from fish and crab processing. The birds likely got into the oils that sat in uncovered trucks and bins, said California Department of Fish and Game Warden Daniel Beck.
The department's Office of Spill Prevention and Response also investigated. Beck issued warnings but no tickets to businesses. He would not disclose which business or businesses left the oil out.
Department officials will patrol the harbor to make sure that businesses cover fish processing waste and prevent it from leaking into the water.
"It's a rare occurance," Beck said. "I don't think it'll happen again."