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Volunteers Spend Christmas Cleaning Birds

December 26, 1988

OCEAN SHORES, Wash. (AP) _ For the third time in five years, volunteers spent Christmas cleaning oil- soaked birds in western Washington as the death toll of birds from a 70,000-gallon oil spill continued to climb.

Workers had recovered 570 live birds and more than 200 dead birds by Sunday evening, said Pam Miller, a state biologist in charge of the search and rescue effort. The live birds were kept in cardboard boxes spread throughout a school’s gymnasium, locker rooms and hallways.

The birds, mostly open-ocean birds such as murres, were tube-fed twice a day with smelt and it could be days or weeks until they can be returned to the wild, Ms. Miller said. Most were ″pretty well coated with oil from head to toe″ when they arrived, she said.

The birds were picked up by search crews covering a 30- to 40-mile section of the Washington coast following an oil spill that occurred after a tugboat struck the fuel-oil barge it was towing to Grays Harbor on Thursday.

An emergency patch could not be placed on the barge until early Saturday because of high seas. The barge was taken to Astoria, Ore., on Saturday, but not before spewing a 30-mile long oil slick. On Sunday, it was moved to Portland, Ore., for further repairs.

About 50 volunteers worked on the bird cleanup on Sunday at the makeshift bird hospital, noisy with the sounds of squawking birds tapping on their boxes. It took about an hour for each bird to be cleaned by a pair of volunteers.

Oil ruins the insulating effect of a bird’s feathers, which can cause it to die of cold, Ms. Miller said. The bird can also be poisoned if it ingests oil while it cleans its feathers, she said.

The search for birds will resume Monday, she said.

A Department of Ecology spokesman said earlier that oil came ashore along a three-mile stretch of beach from the entrance to Grays Harbor, northward to Ocean Shores.

There are two remaining strips of oil, between five and 15 miles offshore, but officials expect the oil to break up or sink and not come to shore, said Wildlife Department spokesman Doug Zimmer.

The biggest known spill in Washington state waters was when 239,000 gallons of oil spewed from the tanker ARCO Anchorage in Port Angeles harbor Dec. 21, 1985. Bird losses were conservatively put at 1,600 marine fowl and 475 ducks.

There was also an oil spill in Puget Sound in 1984 that kept volunteers cleaning birds over Christmas, said Ron Holcomb, Department of Ecology spokesman.

In the most recent spill, Sause Bros. Ocean Towing of Coos Bay, Ore., the barge’s owner, hired a company to begin cleanup operations Saturday. Dick Lauer, manager of bulk products for Sause Bros., said Sunday that he had no cleanup cost estimate and did not expect to get one before late Monday.

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