Brown pelicans dripping with oil are quickly becoming the poster children of the ongoing Deepwater Horizon oil spill. As oil slicks continue to lap at the pelicans' breeding grounds in coastal Louisiana, armies of wildlife rehabilitators are frantically trying to catch and scrub the contaminated birds clean. What does it all mean for the long-term survival of the species – just months after they were taken off the US endangered species list?
The species as a whole isn't about to go extinct as a result of the oil spill: as 400,000 out of a total global population of 650,000 live in Peru. Roughly 60 per cent of the subspecies Pelecanus occidentalis carolinensis breed along the Gulf coast, where many nest on the barrier islands off Louisiana that have already been exposed to oil.
Do the cleaned birds stand a chance of survival or should they be killed humanely?
The International Bird Research Rescue Center, one of two organisations heading up the treatment of oiled birds in the Gulf, claims that 50 to 80 per cent of the birds treated survive [to the point of release.]
The survival rate following release is more difficult to determine and is subject to controversy. The biologist Silvia Gaus recently called for oiled birds to be killed humanely, claiming 99 per cent of released animals die within days or a few weeks due to stress or kidney and liver damage from ingesting oil.
What are the costs of the rehabilitation programme, and who foots the bill?
Figures from the clean-up of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill put the cost at $15,000 per marine bird for a total of 627 birds released. This covers building rehabilitation centres, staff and helicopters and private boats. The cost of caring for wildlife after recent oil spills has amounted to roughly 1 per cent of the total clean-up costs.
Polistra was named after the original townsite of Manhattan (the one in Kansas). When I was growing up in Manhattan, I spent a lot of time exploring by foot, bike, and car. I discovered the ruins of an old mill along Wildcat Creek, and decided (inaccurately) that it was the remains of the original site of Polistra. Accurate or not, I've always liked the name, with its echoes of Poland (an under-appreciated friend of freedom) and stars. ==== The title icon is explained here. ==== Switchover: This 2007 entry marks a sharp change in worldview from neocon to pure populist. ===== The long illustrated story of Polistra's Dream is a time-travel fable, attempting to answer the dangerous revision of New Deal history propagated by Amity Shlaes. The Dream has 8 episodes, linked in a chain from the first. This entry explains the Shlaes connection.