Just months after opening its doors, the new Oiled Wildlife Veterinary Care and Research Center in Santa Cruz got a sudden test of its abilities to save wildlife, and it came through with flying colors. The $5 million California Department of Fish and Game (DFG)/Oil Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) hospital was built to handle up to 125 oiled marine mammals and 100 birds at a time. However, from October 23 through early November 1997, it was the temporary home of approximately 500 seabirds affected by a mysterious oily slick in the Monterey Bay.
In the days immediately after the oily substance was discovered, hundreds of birds were found along the coast from Monterey to Santa Cruz. The oil matted the birds' feathers and destroyed their waterproofing, leaving them unable to fly, forage, swim, or even stay warm.
At the new Oiled Wildlife facility, staff from the Department of Fish and Game and the International Bird Rescue and Research Center and hundreds of local volunteers worked ten to twelve hours a day to tube-feed the birds every four hours, build special cages and pools, and carry out the enormous task of individually washing each bird. "We could never have handled such a large number of birds if the community hadn't come out to help in such large numbers," says Ellen Faurot-Daniels, who acted as Volunteer Coordinator for the incident.and only about ninety percent complete, and was originally designed to be a salt-water sea otter facility, it was converted essentially overnight to a fresh water marine bird care facility," explains Dr. David Jessup, the center's Director.
The center will also be used for ongoing study and research. It will serve as the DFG's primary veterinary care, necropsy lab, and evidence storage facility for all marine animals, with up to six full-time veterinary, research, and administrative staff. Local UCSC researchers will also use the facility.
"Critics and skeptics have questioned whether facilities for the care of oiled marine wildlife are necessary," says Jessup. "With
this mystery spill, there is little doubt that essentially all of the nearly 500 loons, grebes, and scoters we treated would have died
without a facility in the immediate area to care for them."
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