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MYSTERY OIL SOILED COASTAL BIRDS DYING.

Byline: Andrea Cavanaugh Staff Writer

Nearly 1,000 coastal birds have become the victims of mysterious petroleum contamination affecting seabirds from Santa Barbara to Long Beach during the past week.

Biologist Cyndie Cam, who is involved in one of the rescue efforts near Ventura Harbor, said some of the birds are so weakened that they just huddle in their heated cages until they are strong enough to be taken to a rehabilitation center in San Pedro.

``He doesn't feel well,'' she said, picking up one bird tenderly and tucking it into a cage.

``If they don't have too much oil on them and they look feisty, we want to get them out of here,'' Cam said. ``The sooner they get down there, the sooner they can get back out into the wild.''

It's unclear if the oil is coming from one or more spills or whether it is related to the massive storms that pounded California last week. The majority of the contaminated birds - most of them western grebes - have been found between Ventura and Point Mugu, said Michael McDermott, a warden with the state Department of Fish and Game.

The first oil-covered birds were spotted a week ago near Point Mugu. About 170 of the 1,000 birds have died or been euthanized, and an additional 155 were found dead, said Greg Massey, a veterinarian with the Wildlife Health Center at the University of California, Davis.

The oil coating their feathers interferes with the birds' waterproofing and makes them more susceptible to cold. The cold forces them out of the ocean, and they are unable to feed on dry land, Massey said.

Scientists should be able to determine the source of the oil when lab tests are completed in about a week, McDermott said.

The rescue effort is being run by the Oiled Wildlife Care Network, a partnership between universities and private rehabilitation groups financed by the California Department of Fish and Game.

With their long, pointed orange beaks, beady red eyes and slender, curved necks, it's hard to tell the captured grebes apart, but each bird makes its mark on the rescuers, wildlife rehabilitator Lana Emo said.

``They each have their own personalities,'' she said. ``They're all individuals. There's no doubt that each life is precious.''

Rehabilitators can't bathe the birds until their vital signs and body temperatures return to normal, but it's imperative to remove the oil from their feathers to prevent toxic contamination, Massey said.

The bathing process, which takes about 30 minutes, is stressful for the birds, which view their caretakers as predators, Massey said.

Once taken to the San Pedro facility, the birds will begin a rehabilitation process for seven to 10 days. Once they have recovered, they will be released back into the wild.

Andrea Cavanaugh, (818)713-3669

andrea.cavanaugh(at)dailynews.com

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2 photos

Photo:

(1) At Ventura Harbor, Cyndie Cam of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network works to stabilize an oil-contaminated grebe.

(2) Biologist Cyndie Cam works to save one of hundreds of oil-contaminated seabirds recently found ashore on the Ventura County coast.

Tina Burch/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 18, 2005
Words:518
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