Veterinarians waited for patients as an undersea well spewed oil and added to an expansive slick in the Gulf of Mexico.
The short- and long-term impacts of the emerging oil were unclear in the first weeks following the start of the leak, which began after an explosion and fire April 20 that led to 11 deaths and the sinking of the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling platform.
By May 6, government and BP officials confirmed oil had reached the beaches of a group of barrier islands off the northeast of the Mississippi Delta in Breton National Wildlife Refuge. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service planned to release May 10 the first two birds found partly coated in oil. The northern gannet and brown pelican had been cleaned, and both had been treated by a wildlife veterinarian.
Louisiana state wildlife veterinarian Dr. James M. LaCour of the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries said rescuers had found and cleaned at least one other bird coated with oil, but he did not immediately know the species.
"We've had oil moving around and not a whole lot of land impacts or wildlife impacts at this point," Dr. LaCour said. "To date, we've got three oiled birds, and they've been cleaned and are doing very well."
Dr. LaCour said emergency responders had ample time to prepare equipment and personnel, and they were waiting to find out what effect the oil would have. He said about 1,000 people—including government, university, and private veterinarians—were at the spill's incident command center, and information from the government and BP joint response site indicated about 10,000 people overall were working on the oil spill response.
Dr. Michael Ziccardi, an associate professor of clinical wildlife health at the University of California-Davis Wildlife Health Center and the director of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network, said May 7 that more than 50 dead sea turtles and two dead dolphins had been recovered from the area of the oil slick, but none had visible signs of contact with oil. Necropsy, histopathology, and tissue analysis were expected to provide a better indication of whether the turtles died because of contact with the oil or from other causes.
For example, Dr. Ziccardi said it is not uncommon for turtles to become stranded and die in the region during the same time of year.
Dr. Ziccardi was among responders working in the main incident command center and coordinating prevention and recovery efforts.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials announced May 5 that necropsies of 10 stranded turtles showed no evidence of internal or external oil contact. But during flights over the oil slick the day before, NOAA officials spotted up to 50 sea turtles swimming in or near the slick.
The Wildlife Hospital of Louisiana, which is part of the Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine, will care for animals that rescuers find to be injured but not directly affected by the oil spill, the school announced. This will allow organizations in charge of caring for oiled wildlife to expend their resources effectively. The hospital's first patient, a yellow-crowned night heron with a clavicular fracture, arrived May 1; the hospital is also treating two brown pelicans, a white pelican, and a cormorant.
More information on the spill is available at the joint response site at www.deepwaterhorizonresponse.com.