Multiple Oiled Birds in Care Following Southern California Mystery Oil Incident

Eight Brandt’s Cormorants are recovering at the Los Angeles Oiled Bird Care and Education Center (managed by International Bird Rescue) after they were found oiled on the coast of Huntington Beach between March 8 and 16.

Authorities detected the two-and-a-half mile long oil sheen on March 8. Crews recovered about 85% of it, roughly 85 gallons, according to a press release published by United Coast Guard News. As a network member, Bird Rescue was activated by the Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN) to provide staff for recovery and care as well as field responders to survey the area for potentially oiled wildlife.

Wildlife Rehabilitation Technicians Jeanette Bates and Emily Werdal wash an oiled Brandt’s Cormorant. Photos: Ariana Gastelum –International Bird Rescue

Six out of the eight birds that were washed earlier this week are now recovering in an outdoor aviary while they work on waterproofing their feathers and regaining their strength. One of the birds has a large wound on its neck caused by an unknown trauma and will need surgery. The remaining two birds were washed on March 20 and will soon join the others outside. Once fully recovered, the birds will be released back into the wild.

Feather samples from the oiled birds were collected and analyzed at California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Oil Spill Prevention and Response’s Petroleum Chemistry Lab. Of the samples analyzed from 11 birds, 10 were consistent with the offshore oil sheen event, known as the Foxtrot Anchorage Incident. The eleventh bird is believed to have been contaminated with oil from natural seepage. The analysis did not identify a specific source of oil from the incident. They did not match typical natural seep oil, nor did they match archived samples of production oil from local platforms.

Since February 2024, over 80 oiled birds have come into care at Bird Rescue’s wildlife centers. Most of them were contaminated with oil from natural seep following winter storms. Washing oiled birds not only cleanses them but also serves as valuable training for staff and volunteers, preparing them for future wildlife emergencies.

Anyone observing oiled wildlife should not attempt to capture it. Instead, please report observations to 1-877-UCD-OWCN (1-877-823-6926).

Six Brandt’s Cormorants that were washed this past week are now recovering in an outdoor aviary.