Crews race to help wildlife as Orange County oil spill kills birds, fish; how to help

A major oil spill off the Orange County coast over the weekend shuttered area beaches as crews worked to stem environmental damage and rescue threatened wildlife.

With an estimated 126,000 gallons of crude oil gushing into the Pacific Ocean, teams fanned out at first light to look for oil-covered animals in need of help north of Bolsa Chica down to Laguna Beach.

The oil made its way into Talbert Marsh, an ecological reserve home to about 90 species of birds, according to the Huntington Beach Wetlands Conservancy.

Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley said Sunday that the county had received reports of fish and birds washing up dead on the shores.

“We’re asking people to avoid going to the beach and to not touch the animals … because it is toxic,” she said.

Photos showed dead fish washed up on the sand in Huntington Beach.

As of Monday morning, there were no reports of rescue agencies finding marine mammals affected by the spill, but marine experts warned that the animals can face trouble breathing or die after swimming through oil or breathing in toxic fumes.

Several birds were being treated at the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center, including a brown Pelican, a Ruddy Duck and an American Coot, according to Dr. Michael Ziccardi, director of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network based out of UC Davis. The pelican had “chronic injuries” and had to be euthanized.

“It’s much better than we had feared,” he said.

The Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach and SeaWorld San Diego are also on standby to receive animals affected by the spill.

The Bolsa Chica Conservancy says the full extent of impact to wildlife is not yet known, but it’s expected to be significant.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife issued a fisheries closure from Sunset Beach, all the way down to Dana Point.

Can you volunteer to help?

Officials have stressed that the most important way to help is to avoid touching any oil-covered animals and instead report any sightings to the Oiled Wildlife Care Network at 1-877-823-6926.

“First and foremost we need people to not try to catch soiled animals,” Ziccardi said. “It’s not safe for the animals. It’s not safe for them because oil can be a toxic substance.”

The Oiled Wildlife Care Network says it’s not currently looking for volunteers.

“Currently we are not taking general volunteers from the public,” Ziccardi said. “We have 1,600 people that we have trained. These people have been trained up upwards of a week or more, in specialized capture and care techniques.”

However, community members can donate to organizations helping out with the rescues.

The Bolsa Chica Conservancy set up an “Oil Spill Response Fund” to raise money for organizations directly involved with the emergency response efforts. 

Supervisor Foley said residents can donate supplies that can be dropped off at the county office at 333 Santa Ana Blvd. in Santa Ana.

Needed supplies are: Nitrile gloves, N95 masks, tyvek suits, syringes for feeding, red rubber feeding tubes and collapsible plastic of cardboard animal carrying cases.

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