Picture yourself stranded on a desert island with your arms tied behind your back and your favorite food stuck out in the ocean in front of you – just out of reach. Your clothes are soaked in cold water, which makes you even colder, and as capable as you are under normal circumstances, you know that there is nothing you can do to help yourself now.
This was me, a few weeks back, but being a Pacific Loon (and not a human, like yourself) my desert island was the coast of Santa Barbara, and my inability to reach food was the result of oil that had seeped up from the ocean floor. Thick crude was covering my feathers, and I was beached and freezing because this oil had compromised my feathers’ ability to keep me buoyant and waterproof.
Unable to control my instinct to preen, I was spreading this toxic oil from the outside in, ingesting the thick substance as I worked in vain to clean and realign my feathers.
Like you, on your hypothetical desert island, I needed someone to rescue me, but my hopes were dwindling – after all, there was no one to blame for the disaster that was putting my life in danger.
Ever since the day I hatched I had been hearing about these so-called natural oil seeps, but they seemed like something far off and surreal – like tsunamis or tornados – something that would never happen to me. I had also learned about oil spills – the ones where a ship’s contents suddenly spill out and endanger birds like me. Older birds said these disasters were dangerous, too, but since big spills got a lot of attention, help often followed.
I wondered what would happened now that the disaster was natural and more gradual – when the problem was easy to look past, unless it was happening to you. Would anyone even notice me, let alone try to help?
With time my hopeless discomfort turned to blistering pain. I looked down to see the skin on my right leg burning – it had been exposed to the oil for far too long. Little by little the chemical sting became so unbearable that when the effects of hypothermia and starvation started numbing my body and dimming my consciousness I was thankful for the welcome escape.
Before I knew it I was transported to a building where people were poking and prodding… and feeding me – these people had food!
I was relieved to eat, but it was hard to relax in this foreign environment. I couldn’t understand why I was being carried from place to place, but I felt my temperature returning to normal and noticed that there were other birds there too.
Scared and confused, I was reluctant to accept the help of these humans, but they seemed sure of the treatments they were giving me, and it all hurt less if I didn’t struggle. When they put me in a tub of water I felt a little calmer – but this was hardly the end.
Now the poking and prodding gave way to scrubbing and dunking and within minutes I was in and out of so much sudsy water I didn’t know which way was up. They began using a contraption to shoot water in under my feathers, freeing me completely from all of the suds. I grasped, at last, that all this action was aimed at removing the crude. I started to look and feel like myself again, and for the first time since my oiling I thought that I might survive.
It turns out that there is help for natural oil seep victims, and this life-saving aid starts with you.
While everyone knows that victims of oil spills and other human-caused disasters need help, too few realize the dangers of naturally occurring threats like oil seeps, toxic algal blooms and extreme weather. International Bird Rescue is the last line of defense for birds like me. When our lives are endangered by oil, illness, or injury, we have generous humans like you to make sure that International Bird Rescue is always here for us.
Through July 4, a generous donor will match your gift to International Bird Rescue, dollar for dollar, up to $10,000. That means your support will have twice the impact.
International Bird Rescue’s Los Angeles Center’s 207th oiled patient of 2012
Every bird matters.