The Oiled Wildlife Society works primarily to maintain a central stockpile of equipment, establish contingency planning and provide training to key personnel. We act as an important support organization in the event of a spill. We are a completely volunteer-driven organization, and although we have a stockpile of equipment we neither have sufficient equipment nor professional oiled wildlife responders at our disposal to carry out a spill response on our own.
Birds are washed, rinsed and dried using internationally accepted protocols. Contaminants vary in their composition, and are removed accordingly. Sometimes this involves using special pre-treatment agents to help break down the contaminant.
Utilizing specialized washing techniques the contaminants are removed from the feathers. The wash is performed using specific detergent, water temperature, water hardness and water pressure. Each one of these factors is critical to the effectiveness of the wash process.
Once washed the bird is carefully rinsed to remove any soap (any soap residue will also act as a feather contaminant), then whisked to a drying area where it is placed under large blow dryers. It is monitored carefully during this time to ensure its core body temperature remains within a normal range.
When the bird has dried completely and its medical stability has been reaffirmed it is transferred to a pool. There it may start preening its feathers back into alignment, allowing its waterproofing to be restored.
No, every bird must first undergo a “stabilization period”, where it is given fluids to rehydrate, its temperature is normalized, and other physical indicators, including blood values and temperament are used to assess its suitability to undergo a cleaning.
An oiled animal is already highly stressed. The specialized process of removing contaminants involves procedures that amplify this stress for an animal. It is important to carefully assess the animal’s condition and be certain they are medically prepared to undergo this process without suffering additional harm.
Contrary to what most people believe, the amount of oil on an animal actually has very little impact on its survivability. What is far more significant is the amount of time it has spent oiled in its environment before receiving treatment.
Animals that are captured and treated shortly after they were oiled have far fewer chances of developing secondary complications. This makes their treatment regime generally much quicker and the chance they will survive the process much higher.
On average an oiled bird is in care for fourteen days from start to finish. Any complication during care will increase the amount of time in care. Throughout the duration of their time in captivity each animal is checked regularly to ensure they continue to improve in health and condition. Following the cleaning process, each animal is kept for a minimum of 72 hours to ensure their waterproofing is restored, and other physical indicators, including blood values and weight are within normal values for that species. If any indicators are not normal, including the animal’s temperament, it may remain in captivity for several weeks or longer to ensure it is in acceptable condition to survive once returned to the wild.
Advisors from the Ministry of Environment and the Canadian Wildlife Service work with the wildlife response organizations to find an appropriate area to release animals once they are clean and conditioned for survival. They seek out an area where contamination is absent and that is ecologically suitable for the animals being released.
In British Columbia our wildlife is “owned” by the government. Depending on the species, it may be owned by the federal (Canadian Wildlife Service) or provincial (Ministry of Environment) government. However, government has neither the resources nor the experience to perform oiled wildlife rehabilitation activities, so traditionally these responses have been carried out by local not-for-profit organizations (such as Wildlife Rescue Association of BC and British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). However, these organizations are also unequipped to handle the oiled wildlife resulting from a spill on their own. Ideally a professional oiled wildlife responder will be hired to carry out all the duties of an oiled wildlife response from hazing and deterrence (scaring animals away from oiled areas to prevent them from becoming oiled in the first place) to washing and releasing wildlife.
In the same way that the expense for environmental clean-up varies greatly, so does the cost to treat oiled wildlife. Some of the factors that may increase the cost of treating oiled wildlife include: the location of the spill (more remote = more costly due to cost of transporting equipment and personnel to the site), type of oil (some types of oil will cause burns or be more difficult to remove), any time delay in responding to oiled wildlife (the longer it takes for animals to be captured and treated, the more likely they will suffer secondary complications and require extra treatment), geography of the spill location (e.g. a calm lake environment may make capture less difficult than rough ocean waters). Typically the cost of a wildlife response is 1-5% of the overall spill clean-up.
In Canada this is not clearly defined. When a polluter (the Responsible Party) admits fault and accepts responsibility they may choose to be accountable for the costs incurred. However, in the case of a mystery spill or a spill where the Responsible Party does not admit fault there is no designated fund to pay for oiled wildlife clean-up (note that there is a fund for the clean-up of the environment, but wildlife is not included in this designation). In some instances the provincial or federal government have stepped up to cover certain wildlife clean-up costs, but this is evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
As an organization we believe in the humane treatment of all wildlife, as well as the inherent worth of all wildlife (individual or otherwise). We believe that we have an ethical responsibility to mitigate the damage that humans have imparted on these creatures.
Environmentally it makes no sense to leave oiled animals in the wild. They have the potential to act as an ongoing and mobile source of contamination in their environment.
From a practical standpoint, it is also makes sense to respond to all oiled wildlife, regardless of species or status. It would be tremendously difficult to give exceptional care to an oiled animal of a threatened or endangered species if the skills necessary to rehabilitate oiled wildlife hadn’t been kept up to date.