Posted by: The ocean update | May 30, 2015

Oil spill response and marine mammals – Sending Help to Santa Barbara (California, USA)

An aerial view of the oil spill near Santa Barbara. © Oiled Wildlife Care Network

An aerial view of the oil spill near Santa Barbara. © Oiled Wildlife Care Network

May 30th, 2015. The Marine Mammal Center has been officially activated by the Oiled Wildlife Care Network to assist in the response efforts for an oil spill near Santa Barbara.

Ed Sibylline : remind this article (link) about SeaWorld ; we hope that our questions to OWCN (with NOAA in backstage), on the social network, regarding the distance travelled by animals, helped to the change of heading. At least, it’s necessary to ask the right questions and identify the issues. And more numerous we are to do it and greater is the impact).

We have sent personnel, including specially trained staff and volunteers, as well as trucks and equipment to assist responders in the area.

On May 19, 2015, a 24-inch underground pipeline burst near Refugio State Beach about 20 miles NW of Santa Barbara. At least 21,000 gallons of crude oil, specifically Las Flores Canyon OCS (Outer Continental Shelf), spilled into a culvert that led to the ocean.

Officials in Refugio Joint Information Center estimate a worst-case scenario of up to 2,500 barrels (105,000 gallons) of crude oil was released from the pipeline. The most up-to-date information on the spill can be found on the Oiled Wildlife Care Network website.

© Oiled Wildlife Care Network

© Oiled Wildlife Care Network



Oiled dolphin in Oxnard Shores Beach. Photo Rachel Douglas

Oiled dolphin in Oxnard Shores Beach. Photo Rachel Douglas

Animal care experts from the Center are playing a key role in triage efforts for oiled pinnipeds at the spill site. Although our hospital in Sausalito is a primary facility for oiled seals and sea lions, for now these animals are being sent to a facility closer to the spill.

This spill comes at a time when The Marine Mammal Center and other facilities in the marine mammal stranding network are already working around the clock due to the unusual numbers of stranded marine mammals along the California coastline.

So far this year, more than 3,100 California sea lions have stranded on California beaches, many of them starving pups. Researchers say warming ocean temperatures have affected the sea lions’ food supply and made it more difficult for mothers to support their pups.

What to do if you spot oiled wildlife
If you find oiled wildlife in your area, please call 1-877-UCD-OWCN (1-877-823-6926) and report it immediately. Do not attempt to rescue the wildlife yourself and keep pets away from the area. Untrained individuals who attempt to rescue wildlife may cause more harm than good and may injure themselves in the process. If oiled animals are scared back into the water by pets or people, their chances of survival decrease dramatically.

Past response efforts
The Marine Mammal Center has, in the past, assisted agencies by rescuing marine mammals and birds caught in the toxic goo. The Center is a member of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network, which was established in 1994, and is part of the California Department of Fish & Game’s Oil Spill Prevention and Response Program.

Previous response efforts include the Cosco Busan incident in 2007, when an outbound container ship struck the Bay Bridge in San Francisco, spilling approximately 58,000 gallons of bunker fuel into the bay. Staff and volunteers from the Center also assisted in response efforts to the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 and the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska in 1989.

How Oil Spills Affect Marine Mammals

Oil in or on the water is extremely dangerous to wildlife. For instance, when an animal lands in an area affected by oil, it will try to preen or clean itself and ingest the toxic petroleum product, causing severe damage to internal organs. Ingesting oil will greatly disrupt the reproductive process, and animals that have survived oil spills may suffer the long term effects of breeding problems and may produce deformed offspring.

From the Oiled Wildlife Care Network : There are different effects on different classes of marine mammals. Heavily furred animals, such as sea otters and fur seals, are more severely affected by oiling because these species rely on their thick haircoat to maintain warmth and buoyancy. The fur traps a thin layer of air adjacent to the animal’s skin (in a similar fashion to birds), and this air layer prevents the skin of the animal from coming into contact with the cold ocean water. When exposed to oil, the alignment of the hair is altered; the air layer is destroyed; and mammals rapidly become hypothermic.

For marine mammals without heavy haircoats (such as other species of seals, sea lions, dolphins and whales), problems associated with hypothermia are less of a concern because their thick blubber protects them from the cold, with the exception of juveniles that have not yet developed this protective layer. However, problems associated with fume inhalation, skin exposure, and ingestion are still concerns for these species, as they are in birds and fur-bearing marine mammals.

When a bird becomes coated with oil, the oil will clog the bird’s feathers making it impossible for the bird to fly. Oil can also make the feathers so heavy that the bird will be unable to float, and may end up sinking and drowning.

Fish and shellfish larvae — and other micro-organisms, like plankton — are extremely sensitive to even small amounts of oil and other petroleum products. One gallon of used oil spilled in one million gallons of water will kill half of all exposed Dungeness crab larvae. (Washington State Dept. of Ecology)

There are cumulative impacts to sensitive shoreline organisms (such as clams, crabs, macro invertebrates) which die or bio-accumulate the toxic components of petroleum products. This toxicity moves up the food chain, negatively impacting reproduction, shortening life span and leading to mortality of larger animals (birds and mammals) that may prey on these organisms.

Ed Sibylline : another oil spill in California (05/28/2015)

Tar balls wash up on California’s Manhattan Beach ; officials investigate (link)




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