Dead Dolphins, Pelicans Continue to Wash Ashore after Refugio Oil Spill

The Body Count Rose Sharply Monday, Two Weeks after the Rupture

Dead and dying wildlife continue to wash ashore two weeks after the May 19 oil spill near Refugio State Beach.

On Monday alone, responders organized by the California Department of Fish & Wildlife and the Oiled Wildlife Care Network recovered the bodies of 30 dead sea birds (mostly brown pelicans) and 13 marine mammals (mostly sea lions.) Five oiled birds and two mammals were found alive.

One of two dead dolphins found Sunday along Carpinteria's shoreline. The photographer, area resident Robert Hubina, noted oil coming out of both dolphins' mouths.
Click to enlarge photo

Robert Hubina

One of two dead dolphins found Sunday along Carpinteria’s shoreline. The photographer, area resident Robert Hubina, noted oil coming out of both dolphins’ mouths.

Since May 19, nine dead dolphins — some with mouths full of tar — have washed onto South Coast beaches. A total of 45 mammals and 80 birds have been found dead in the last two weeks. Of the 57 live birds and 38 mammals rescued, eight birds and seven mammals died in care. Body counts for fish, crustaceans, and other types of intertidal animals were not immediately available.

Authorities with the Refugio Response Joint Information Center (JIC) — out of which all official spill-related communications flow — have stressed that not every dead animal was killed by oil. Some died of natural causes. Necropsies will be performed in the coming weeks to determine the true causes of death, they said.

The spike in Monday’s numbers may be due to the larger number of beaches response teams are now covering, a JIC spokesperson said. Shoreline teams are now canvassing as far south as southern Ventura County.

Local marine biologists have noted that many of the ocean-faring animals killed by the oil spill will likely sink into the sea and never be recovered. The true environmental impact to the region’s intertidal ecosystem — a delicate and narrow piece of the natural world where land and water meet — will be vast and long lasting, they’ve said.

Seals and sea lions rescued in Santa Barbara are being transported to SeaWorld San Diego because it’s the closest facility that can properly treat oiled marine mammals, a JIC spokesperson said. Pelicans are being cleaned and cared for in Los Angeles for the same reason, she explained.

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