"Cleaning" oil-soaked birds merely prolongs their agony

Doctors spend gazillions of taxpayer, insurance company and patient dollars keeping terminally ill elderly patients alive — often in great pain — for a few extra days, weeks or months. Though the doctors and hospitals who extend terminally ill patients' lives get paid handsomely for doing so, their intervention in the dying process seldom benefits dying patients or their loved ones, who all suffer through an unnaturally elongated dying period.

Greed, fear of lawsuits, and a professional ethic of keeping terminally ill patients alive at all costs lead the medical system to, in effect, torture millions of elderly patients by delaying their deaths. So why should we expect any better of humans toward animals whom we have — through our actions — doomed to death?

Apparently, “cleaning” oil-soaked birds is like “clean coal”: a happy phrase that soothes our guilty consciences but represents absolutely nothing beneficial. I still recall the powerful images of workers scrubbing oil-soaked birds clean after the Exxon Valdez spill. I never knew till now it’s basically a marketing scam. Those birds were doomed to death the moment they became coated in oil. “Cleaning” them merely prolongs their painful death spiral:

“Kill, don’t clean,” is the recommendation of a German animal biologist, who this week said that massive efforts to clean oil-soaked birds in Gulf of Mexico won’t do much to stop a near certain and painful death for the creatures.

Despite the short-term success in cleaning the birds and releasing them back into the wild, few, if any, have a chance of surviving, says Silvia Gaus, a biologist at the Wattenmeer National Park along the North Sea in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein.

“According to serious studies, the middle-term survival rate of oil-soaked birds is under 1 percent,” Gaus says. “We, therefore, oppose cleaning birds.”

…Catching and cleaning oil-soaked birds oftentimes leads to fatal amounts of stress for the animals, Gaus says. Furthermore, forcing the birds to ingest coal solutions — or Pepto Bismol, as animal-rescue workers are doing along the Gulf Coast — in an attempt to prevent the poisonous effects of the oil is ineffective, Gaus says. The birds will eventually perish anyway from kidney and liver damage.

Gaus speaks from 20 years of experience, and she worked on the environmental cleanup of the Pallas — a wood-carrying cargo ship that spilled 90 tons of oil in the North Sea after running aground in October of 1998. Around 13,000 birds drown, froze or expired due to stress as a result of the Pallas spill.

Once covered in oil, a bird will use its bill and tongue to remove the toxic substance from their feathers. Despite oil’s terrible taste and smell, a bird will still try and clean itself because it can’t live without fluffy feathers that repel water and regulate its body temperature. “Their instinct to clean is greater than their instinct to hunt, and as long as their feathers are dirty with oil, they won’t eat,” Gaus says.

…Gaus says… kill them “quickly and painlessly.”

…At the time of the 2002 Prestige oil spill off the coast of Spain, a spokesman from [the World Wildlife Fund] said: “Birds, those that have been covered in oil and can still be caught, can no longer be helped. … Therefore, the World Wildlife Fund is very reluctant to recommend cleaning.”

The Prestige spill killed 250,000 birds. Of the thousands that were cleaned, most died within a few days, and only 600 lived and were able to be released into the wild.

Cleaning birds is as effective in keeping them alive as Lady MacBeth’s continual hand-washing was at soothing her guilty conscience.

Sadly, washing oil-soaked birds is highly effective at soothing our guilty consciences by tricking us into believing oil companies fix the damage they cause.

Posted by James on Monday, May 10, 2010