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Gulf spill offered veterinarians insights on emergency response
National Report - For veterinarians still taking care of marine mammals and sea turtles along the Gulf Coast, it was business as usual on April 20-the one-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that dumped millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
National Report — For veterinarians still taking care of marine mammals and sea turtles along the Gulf Coast, it was business as usual on April 20—the one-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that dumped millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
While no live oiled sea turtles have been found for quite some time, Dr. Michael Ziccardi, a veterinarian and director of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN), said small numbers of oiled dolphins continue to be found stranded near Louisiana.
Ziccardi, who spent 100 days on the Gulf Coast after the spill, said most local command posts have closed, but several facilities like the Audubon Nature Institute in New Orleans and the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, Miss, are still treating animals.
At the end of April, a total of 1,149 live and dead sea turtles, and 181 live and dead cetacea were collected after the spill. Of the 536 live sea turtles, 479 already have been released. "Only 25 died in our care," Ziccardi adds.
Of the mammals, 14 were found alive and five were successfully released.
One dolphin and 32 sea turtles are still undergoing treatment, he added.
With the animal care under control, Ziccardi says the region is transitioning from an active-response mode to a state of readiness—in case additional oiled animals are found—and a damage-assessment phase.
The OWCN also recently made changes to its Recovery and Transportation training program.
"In California, after the Cosco Busan oil spill in 2007, my program (UC Davis' OWCN) was given the increased responsibility of being in charge of search and collection of oiled wildlife in addition to rehabilitation," Ziccardi says. "As part of that, we have been building an experienced and trained cadre of wildlife-capture experts to quickly and effectively capture animals that are oiled during spills in California."
These experts include veterinarians and other skilled wildlife professionals who are part of OWCN's 31 member organizations, he adds.
The OWCN is also applying "lessons learned" from the Deepwater Horizon spill to its new training program. "In particular, how our methods relate to mammal response," Ziccardi says.
Since returning to California from the Gulf Coast in October 2010, Ziccardi and his team have responded to several other oil spills.
Despite reports that those working on oil-spill cleanups have suffered health-related side effects, Ziccardi says none of his team has experienced any symptoms.
"But we are following the reports closely," he says. "One positive outcome from this (Deepwater Horizon) spill is the large-scale effort by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to better understand the health consequences of the oil-spill cleanup."
Looking back after the first anniversary, Ziccardi says he is amazed at the "incredible outpouring of offers of assistance from every area of the world."
He says, "we literally had many hundreds" of zoo and wildlife veterinarians who signed up through the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians (AAZV) and the AZA to donate their time to help the animals in crisis.
"One take-home message to me from this response is that we need to develop a much better mechanism to allow such skilled individuals to assist in an effective manner if (and when) such disasters occur in the future," he says. "As well as to get oil spill response-specific training to vets and veterinary technicians before such incidents occur. My program is currently reaching out to AAZV to see if such a system can be developed in the near term to better care for birds, mammals and sea turtles during the next spill."