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Volunteers Wry To Save Oil-Coated Birds

December 26, 1988

OCEAN SHORES, Wash. (AP) _ Volunteers cleaned and fed hundreds of squawking waterfowl coated with some of the 70,000 gallons of oil that spilled into the ocean after a tug boat collided with a barge.

With the search for dead and ailing birds continuing, 207 dead birds had been found by Sunday night, and it could take weeks for officials to determine how many of the injured waterfowl will survive, said Pam Miller, a state biologist in charge of the rescue mission.

Sause Bros. Ocean Towing of Coos Bay, Ore., owner of the tug Ocean Services and barge Nestucca, hired a company to begin cleanup operations Saturday. Dick Lauer, a company manager, said Sunday he doubted an estimate of cleanup costs would be available before late today.

Officials said 570 rescued birds were kept in cardboard boxes around the Hoquiam Middle School gymnasium, locker rooms and hallways. About 50 volunteers worked on bird cleanup Sunday at the makeshift bird hospital, noisy with squawking birds tapping on their boxes.

It took about an hour for each bird to be cleaned by a pair of volunteers and then wrapped in towels or cloths to be kept warm.

The birds, mostly open-ocean birds such as murres, were being tube-fed twice a day with smelt. Most arrived ″pretty well coated with oil from head to toe,″ Ms. Miller said.

It would probably take three or four weeks to clean, inspect and return the stricken birds to the wild, said Alice Berkner, executive director of the Bird Rescue Research Center in Berkeley, Calif., and supervisor of the rescue. Of those treated, 25 percent to 65 percent are expected to survive, officials said.

Oil ruins the insulating effect of a bird’s feathers, which can cause it to die of cold, Ms. Miller said. Birds also can be poisoned by ingesting oil while cleaning their feathers, she added.

The birds, including grebes, loons, scoters and other sea ducks, were found along a 30- to 40-mile section of coastline after the tugboat Ocean Services struck the fuel-oil barge Nestucca it was towing to Grays Harbor on Thursday, authorities said.

An emergency patch was placed on the barge Saturday, and the next day it was taken to Portland, Ore., for repairs.

Athough oil-soaked birds were found from the mouth of the Columbia River to Moclips, oil washed ashore only along a three-mile stretch of beach from the entrance to Grays Harbor northward to Ocean Shores, officials said. A Wildlife Department spokesman said beach cleanup was progressing smoothly.

Two remaining strips of oil were five to 15 miles offshore late Sunday, but officials expect it to dissipate or sink, said Wildlife Department spokesman Doug Zimmer.

He added that damage was minimized because the spill occurred at high tide so the most of oil was drawn out to sea and dissipated, rather than being concentrated in more environmentally sensitive shoreline areas.

The biggest known spill in Washington state waters was a 239,000-gallon leak from the tanker Arco Anchorage in Port Angeles on Dec. 21, 1985, with bird losses conservatively estimated at 1,600 marine fowl and 475 ducks.

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