Since 1971: Researching and Innovating for the Future

If there is one thing that the 1971 San Francisco Bay oil spill taught us, it was that there was so much we needed to learn. In spite of the valiant efforts of volunteers and animal caretakers, the numbers were grim; out of roughly 7,000 birds collected from the oil-soaked water and beaches, only about 300 survived to release. At the Richmond Bird Care Center, one of 16 response centers set up to care for oiled animals during the 1971 spill, Alice Berkner reported that “Of the 1,600 birds received by [the center], 16% had survived. This was an unheard of success, but far from satisfactory.” The responders were determined to do better in the future and embraced the long road of learning ahead.

After the last of the Standard spill birds left care, Alice and a group of responders from the spill decided to keep Bird Rescue (then the International Bird Rescue Research Center) going in order to pursue more experience and expertise in oiled wildlife care and husbandry of aquatic birds.

Alice Berkner tube feeding an oiled surf scoter with volunteer in 1971.

“One of the first, and I feel, most valuable things we did was to institute a literature search in the area of seabirds, their anatomy and physiology, how they were affected by oil, the use of medication in aviculture, and anything remotely connected to the problems we had experienced,” recalls Alice Berkner. “We actively investigated the use of solvent to clean oiled birds but were very concerned with the toxicity factors involved with its use. It was during our four years at the Humane Society site that we read of detergent cleaning techniques developed in England.”

The innovation and research has only progressed in the 50 years since Bird Rescue began. Our team has developed research projects and published numerous papers all aimed towards increasing our knowledge, improving our methods, and sharing that information with the world. These are just some of the questions we’ve been asking and finding answers to over the past half-century:

  • How should the different species be housed while in care?
  • What products might remove oil from feathers efficiently without causing harm to the animal or caretakers?
  • Can previously oiled animals return to the wild and live long productive lives?

You can find more information about our latest research publications on our website. What new breakthroughs and advancements lay in store for the next 50 years? We can wait to find out.