50 years after Bay Area oil spill, Bird Rescue leads the way

At slightly bit earlier than 2 a.m. on Jan. 18, 1971, two Customary Oil ships, every laden with hundreds of gallons of crude and refined oil, sailed by means of the fog-enshrouded Golden Gate and into an ecological catastrophe.

The Arizona Customary was headed into the Bay, the Oregon Customary was outward sure. Captains on each ships later would share within the duty for the accident, however all that was identified on the time was that the 2 had collided, spilling greater than 800,000 gallons of oil.

An untold variety of sea birds would die within the spill, however from that huge oil slick arose a corporation that might set up a universally accepted protocol for treating all sick and injured sea birds. Worldwide Hen Rescue, which traces its roots again to these darkish days following the oil spill, celebrates its fiftieth anniversary this weekend.

Susan McCarthy was a highschool pupil residing on the Peninsula when she heard the information of the spill.

“It was within the papers and the radio was giving info on rescue efforts,” McCarthy says. “There was no official response, in order that they had been asking for volunteers.”

When McCarthy heard that birds had been being washed within the basement of the lion home on the San Francisco Zoo, she talked her mother into driving her there. What she discovered was utter chaos.

Somebody requested her if she had expertise dealing with birds, and as she had raised a duck, she stated sure. She was then shuttled into an space crowded with oil-covered birds and volunteers. She was instructed to seize a Western grebe and begin rubbing its feathers in corn meal in an try to absorb the oil.

“In fact,” McCarthy says, “nobody knew what they had been doing.”

Alice Berkner, a nurse with a eager curiosity in defending wildlife and the surroundings, was one other volunteer who got here day after day to assist — and he or she grew to become the catalyst in forming Worldwide Hen Rescue, now headquartered close to Fairfield with a rescue in Southern California as effectively.

Worldwide Hen Rescue founder Alice Berkner trains volunteers on cleansing birds lined with oil. Berkner, a pediatric nurse, noticed the necessity for science-based analysis in establishing protocols. (Worldwide Hen Rescue) 

Hen Rescue spokesman Russ Curtis says Berkner, a pediatric nurse, was horrified by the lack of life and the struggling of the birds, and labored tirelessly to arrange volunteers and deal with the birds. Others noticed an instantaneous want to assist, however Berkner additionally noticed an opportunity to study and train by making use of science to the issue.

“She recruited others,” Curtis says. “She was the gel that introduced all this collectively.”

By daylight on that January day, the injury was already seen. The tide and present had pushed a lot of the oil outdoors the gate, the place it blackened seashores as far north as Tomales Bay and south to Santa Cruz. Hundreds and hundreds of volunteers — the best quantity because the 1906 earthquake and fireplace — started dashing to the seashores and emergency therapy facilities.

There was some stress, McCarthy says, as hippies joined alongside engineers and emergency employees, however it all sorted itself out and the odd group started to work collectively.

Though volunteers did their greatest, desperately making an attempt to clear oil from the birds’ eyes and airways, wrapping them in towels and transporting them to unexpectedly established care facilities, of the 1,600 birds that had been rescued alive, fewer than 200 survived. By the point the peak of the emergency had handed, solely 80 birds had been alive and may very well be launched again into the wild.

The Western grebes and scoters took the brunt of the oil spill as they roost on the water. Gulls and cormorants, which roost on land, had been capable of see the oil slick and, in lots of instances, keep away from it.

It wasn’t simply the oil that triggered harm and demise. McCarthy stated they believed the birds would wish to finish a molt and develop again their feathers — a course of that takes 9 months — earlier than they may very well be launched. The birds had been saved in an previous paper warehouse in Richmond, however shredded paper on the concrete flooring wasn’t sufficient of a cushion for the grebes, who had been unaccustomed to life on land. Earlier than lengthy, McCarthy remembers, rescuers had been seeing the birds’ bones break by means of their pores and skin.

A brown pelican, coated in oil from the 1971 Customary Oil spill in San Francisco Bay. (Worldwide Hen Rescue) 

Curtis says little was identified about how you can deal with the birds. Though the volunteers and wildlife specialists did their greatest, there have been working in the dead of night. The oil was the quick downside, however there was a lot extra to know.

In time, Worldwide Hen Rescue figured it out, though McCarthy, who nonetheless volunteers at instances, says there all the time is extra to study. The survival charge has elevated dramatically and extra is realized with every new pure catastrophe IBR and different rescue teams all over the world reply to, together with spills such because the Exxon Valdez in Alaska and the Deep Sea Horizon oil rig within the Gulf of Mexico.

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