Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Six months after the Napoli disaster, 485 oiled birds cleaned and released

A total of 485 birds covered in oil as a result of the grounding of the MSC Napoli in Devon have been cleaned, rehabilitated and released back into the wild by the RSPCA.

The final figures, issued today, reveal that the rest of the 1,020 oiled seabirds picked up by RSPCA staff died or were put to sleep to alleviate their stress and suffering, because they were not strong enough to stand a decent chance of survival in the wild.

Tim Thomas, a senior scientific officer in the RSPCA's wildlife department, said: “I’m proud to say that RSPCA staff have worked around the clock and done a wonderful job to give these birds the best chance of survival.

"When seabirds are covered in oil they are lucky to get to shore at all because they can’t fly or dive for food and the oil also reduces their buoyancy. Those eventually washed up on beaches were badly malnourished and in many cases poisoned by the effects of the oil.

"There were probably many more which died out at sea and didn’t make it back to the shore to be rescued by the RSPCA," said Mr Thomas.

"Many of those we received were put to sleep because they had no realistic chance of survival and a great many of these had severe enteritis [inflammation of the intestine] due to the effects of the oil. Being held in captivity is also extremely stressful for wild birds.”

Common Guillemots, which comprise 467 of the released birds, are known to be extremely difficult to rehabilitate successfully once covered in oil. Studies in the mid 1990s found that 70 per cent of rehabilitated oiled guillemots were found dead within 14 days of release.

So far, it is hoped the birds released from the Napoli disaster may be faring far better: only four of those released have been found dead in the critical two-week period following release.

Mr Thomas added: "It is hoped the rest of the released birds now stand as good a chance of survival as the rest of the guillemot population. The low numbers found dead may be thanks to the increased veterinary input and modifications to the way the birds were looked after. However, we must remain only tentatively optimistic about their long-term survival due to the compelling evidence produced in the 1990s to the contrary.”

Guillemot photos: Andrew Forsyth (RSPCA)