09 October 2011

Oil spill: update from wildlife centre

The 5 little blue penguins and 2 shags had their first bath to try and remove tar-like oil from their feathers on Saturday and will go through the same process again on Sunday.

Head of the wildlife centre set up at Te Maunga Brett Gartrell said both the shags and 3 of the penguins were 100% covered in oil when they while the remaining 2 penguins were 30 to 50% oiled.

"We think that most of the penguins will survive," he said.

The shags were more of a concern as they did not handle the stress of the washing as well, he said.

"They'll be more of a challenge to get through," he said.

A shag being cleaned by Wildlife veterinarian Dr Brett Gartrell and Aimee Forster of the National Oiled Wildlife Response team.
The oil, which has been leaking into Tauranga Harbour from stricken container ship Rena since Wednesday, gums up the birds' feathers, removing their waterproofing and stopping them being able to maintain their body temperature, Mr Gartrell said.

"The heavy fuel oil is like tar," he said.

Mr Gartrell said the birds has also been trying to preen themselves, causing them to ingest the toxic oil and making them anemic.

The birds are being fed fish and given regular fluids, while being kept in a warm darkened marquee at the Te Maunga centre.

The washing process involves massaging canola oil into the birds' feathers to remove the heavier oil and washing them off in softened water heated to 41C - the normal body temperature of the birds.

Mr Gartrell said some of the birds could handle up to an hour of washing today while others could withstand only 20 minutes.

The birds will undergo one more wash tomorrow, possible more, before the oil is removed.

Meanwhile, 6 volunteers were helping at the wildlife centre today and more than 80 were divided into 14 teams out patrolling Papamoa Beach for other oiled wildlife.

3 boats were also doing marine sweeps.

Tauranga MP Simon Bridges visited the centre about 1pm yesterday to check up on the teams.

"It's quite clear they're extremely well prepared should the worst happen," he said.

No further oiled birds were found on Saturday.

Any sightings of oiled wildlife can be reported by calling 0800 333 771. Do not attempt to clean wildlife yourself.

Anyone who sees oil on a shoreline can report it by calling 0800 OIL SPILL (0800 645 774).

Source: The Bay of Plenty Times. By Michele McPherson. 9 October 2011

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