Groups clean contaminated harbor birds
Oily threats to local birds don't always stem from petroleum spills.
At least two dozen brown pelicans contaminated with fish oil were recently linked to open fish-waste disposal bins at the cleaning stations of the Crescent City Harbor.
"Fish oil is non-toxic to them internally but as an external contaminant, it affects them the same as petroleum," said Monte Merrick, member of Bird Ally X, one of the groups helping save the threatened birds.
Fish oil disrupts the waterproofing ability of birds, allowing cold
seawater to get under their down, reaching their skin. Without their
natural waterproofing ability the birds can become hypothermic and avoid
hunting in the water, eventually leading to starvation, Merrick said.
The Humboldt Wildlife Care Center (HWCC) in Bayside currently has 13
brown pelicans and two western gulls, said HWCC director John Kelsey.
HWCC and Bird Ally X are continuing to collect contaminated birds from
The Marine Wildlife Care Facility at Humboldt State University has
helped with some of the cleaning of the large birds, but its ability to
intervene is limited.
As part of the statewide Oiled Wildlife Care Network, HSU must
maintain its readiness in case of a petroleum spill - not a fish oil
"It's like a fire department," said Richard Golightly, director of
the facility at HSU. "You can't leave the firehouse completely empty but
it doesn't mean you wouldn't loan your neighbor some things to help."
In 2006, dozens of oily gulls were found, but it was initially
thought to be from petroleum, so Golightly's team at HSU took on the
cleaning effort. Once it was discovered that the gulls had been
contaminated from a local fish processing plant, they were all
transported to a care center in the San Francisco Bay Area for
rehabilitation, Golightly said.
"Fish oil is very different because of the politics involved,"
The HWCC has spent over $1,000 in just a few days for the housing
necessary to rehabilitate these large birds, Kelsey said. HWCC usually
deals with smaller animals.
Crescent City Harbor allows recreational fishermen to throw
fish-waste left over from cleaning into bins, which are emptied daily by
harbor staff, said Harbormaster Richard Young.
Occasionally the lids for these bins are not replaced, tempting birds
to have an easy meal, with a side of debilitating fish oil, Young said.
Fortunately, preventing this from happening in the future is an easy
fix that has already been remedied by the HWCC and Bird Ally X.
"The bins have been modified to have hinged lids and exclude birds,"
said Jeff Dayton, director of the Eureka Field Office for the California
Deptartment of Fish and Game's Office of Spill Prevention and Response.
Dayton was first contacted about the fish oil problem by Deborah
Jaques during her recent visit to Crescent City.
Jaques, who has been studying pelicans since 1985, heard people at
the harbor inquiring about the unnatural, wet-looking state of the birds
when she noticed the fish-waste bins.
She called Dayton and International Bird Rescue, which set off a
chain of communication and collaboration to bring the birds back to good
Two birds had to be euthanized due to previously broken wings that
healed irregularly. They would not have been able to hunt in the wild,
All parties involved would like to remind the public not to feed wild
birds and properly dispose of fish waste.
The HWCC is accepting donations to rehabilitate these birds. For more
information, visit www.humwild.org.