Florida Sea Grant Extension Agent
Okaloosa & Walton Counties
Many people are feeling helpless and frustrated by the current Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. Unfortunately, citizens searching for a way to help may run into dead ends without understanding why. One such topic is the response and rescue of oiled wildlife. There are many bird species, 21 marine mammal species and five species of sea turtles that call the Gulf of Mexico home. Each of these types of animals have specific professionals who are permitted and trained to handle impacted wildlife.
Great Blue Heron standing on oiled beach. Photo Credits: Andrew Diller
All wildlife rescue and rehabilitation efforts are being coordinated through U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research. These trained professionals have been organized by the Wildlife Branch of the Unified Command to respond to animals affected by the oil spill. The responders are authorized personnel that have been previously trained to handle stranded marine animals through the Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program and Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network. Primary care and rehabilitation facilities have been identified by NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service and USFWS to provide rescue and care. Tri-State is the contracted authority to handle oiled wildlife and response and has a primary care facility in Pensacola to treat oiled birds. Rescuing animals may seem like an easy and useful thing to do, however it can be dangerous and harmful. Oil is a hazardous material when in direct contact with human skin. Also, handling a distressed animal can be very dangerous since they will be scared and defensive, and may cause bodily harm to rescuers. People attempting to rescue without consent can cause further stress and injury to the already struggling animal. Please do not approach or touch any distressed animal for your safety and theirs. There may be immediate treatment needed at the time of rescue, as well as laws protecting the animal, so it is very important to leave the rescue and rehabilitation to those who have been identified and permitted by USFWS and Tri-State.
Feeding an oiled Northern Gannet. Photo Credits: Andrew Diller
The most helpful course of action is to first report the location, type if known, and time to the Oiled Wildlife hotline, 866-557-1401. If you find non-oiled wildlife make sure to report it immediately to your local Wildlife Sanctuary, there is no need to call the hotline in these situations. To report oil and/or tar balls on Florida beaches call 877-272-8335 or dial #DEP on a cell phone. There are many opportunities to volunteer during this incident, interested individuals can call 866-448-5816 or go to www.volunteerfloridadisaster.org/ and check the listing by county. To get daily updated numbers of oiled wildlife collected in each state go to www.deepwaterhorizonresponse.com and look for the fish and wildlife report under "Current Ops".