As the BP Deep Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico eclipses the Exxon Valdez disaster, people are scrambling to assess the damage, both economically and environmentally.
Footage of miles-long slicks snaking through the water is enough to send a shiver down anyone's spine. But perhaps the most heartbreaking scenes are those of hapless wildlife coated in sludge. Hundreds of volunteers have mobilized in Louisiana and other places, ordinary citizens offering to help clean oily animals.
Despite the good intentions, some experts are saying that it would be more humane to simply kill the birds and wildlife than to try to clean them. No one wants to see oiled birds left to die, and the whole premise behind cleaning oiled wildlife has been called into question. Research has shown that it is both expensive and ineffective.
As German newspaper Der Spiegel reported, "‘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.
Catching and cleaning oil-soaked birds often times 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."
After the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, around 1,600 sea birds were captured, de-oiled, and rehabilitated. Half of them were returned to the sea at a cost of nearly $32,000 per bird. After assessing that effort, the Pacific Seabird Group of Stinson Beach, California, concluded that wildlife rehabilitation following oil spills is generally labor-intensive, costly, and has a low probability of success. The World Wildlife Fund has also expressed doubts about the utility of cleaning oiled wildlife.
The resources and manpower spent cleaning animals that are so poisoned that they will die within days or weeks could be better spent preventing damage in other areas. While the desire to rescue endangered wildlife is admirable and noble, the most obvious solution is not always the best one.