Dead, oiled birds reported for the first time in Texas

ROBERT, La. — Federal authorities responding to the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill say dead birds with oil on them have been reported for the first time in Texas.

Plaquemines Parish coastal zone director P.J. Hahn drops a small oiled fish at Bay Long off the coast of Louisiana Sunday. Oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill continued to move inland along several gulf states.

Plaquemines Parish coastal zone director P.J. Hahn drops a small oiled fish at Bay Long off the coast of Louisiana Sunday. Oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill continued to move inland along several gulf states.

ROBERT, La. — Federal authorities responding to the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill say dead birds with oil on them have been reported for the first time in Texas.

A wildlife report issued Sunday by the government command centre in Louisiana says that two dead birds with visible oil were found in Texas, along with at least 36 dead birds that didn’t appear to have oil on them. The report did not say where in Texas the birds were found.

The previous day’s wildlife report didn’t list any dead birds in Texas.

Officials at the command centre could not immediately comment on the numbers in the report late Sunday.

containment cap that sucked some of the oil from a blown-out well in the Gulf of Mexico offered a small sign of progress for a region that has seen its wildlife coated in a lethal oil muck, its fishermen idled and its beaches tarnished by the country’s worst oil spill.

BP chief executive Tony Hayward told the BBC on Sunday that over the last 24 hours, the cap placed on the gusher near the sea floor trapped about 1.6 million litres of oil. It’s not clear how much is still escaping — an estimated 1.9 million to 3.8 million litres of crude is believed to be leaking daily.

Hayward said he believed the cap is likely to capture “the majority, probably the vast majority” of the oil gushing from the well.

The next step is for engineers at BP PLC to attempt to close vents on the cap that were deliberately allowing streams of oil to escape the system so water cannot get inside. When water and gas combined in an earlier containment box, it formed a frozen slush that foiled the system.

The federal government’s point man for the response,coast guard Admiral Thad Allen, said the goal is to gradually increase the amount of the oil being captured. He compared the process to stopping the flow of water from a garden hose with a finger: “You don’t want to put your finger down too quickly, or let it off too quickly.”

While BP plans to eventually use an additional set of hoses and pipes to increase the amount of oil being trapped, the ultimate solution remains a relief well that should be finished by August.

The urgency of that task was apparent along the Gulf Coast nearly seven weeks after a BP rig exploded and the wellhead a mile below the surface began belching millions of gallon of oil.

Pelicans struggle to free themselves from oil, thick as tar, that gathers in hip-deep pools, while others stretch out useless wings, feathers dripping with crude. Dead birds and dolphins wash ashore, coated in the sludge. Seashells are stained crimson.

“These waters are my backyard, my life,” said boat captain Dave Marino, a firefighter and fishing guide from Myrtle Grove. “I don’t want to say heartbreaking, because that’s been said. It’s a nightmare. It looks like it’s going to be wave after wave of it and nobody can stop it.”

The oil has steadily spread east, washing up in greater quantities in recent days.

Government officials estimate that roughly 83 million to 182 million litres have leaked into the Gulf since the April 20 explosion that killed 11 workers.

A line of oil mixed with seaweed stretched all across the beach Sunday morning in Gulf Shores, Ala. The oil often wasn’t visible, hidden beneath the washed-up plants. At a cleaning station outside a huge condominium tower, Leon Baum was scrubbing oil off his feet with Dawn dishwashing detergent.

Baum drove with his children and grandchildren from Bebee, Ark., for their annual vacation on Alabama’s coast. They had contemplated leaving because of the oil, but they’ve already spent hundreds of dollars on their getaway.

“After you drive all this way, you stay,” Baum said.

Alabama Gov. Bob Riley and Allen met for more than an hour Saturday in Mobile, Ala., agreeing to a new plan that would significantly increase protection on the state’s coast with larger booms, beachfront barriers, skimmers and a new system to protect Perdido Bay near the Florida line.

At Pensacola Beach, Erin Tamber, who moved to the area from New Orleans after surviving Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, inspected a beach stained orange by the retreating tide.

“I feel like I’ve gone from owning a piece of paradise to owning a toxic waste dump,” she said.

Back in Louisiana, along the beach at Queen Bess Island, oil pooled several feet deep, trapping birds against containment boom. The futility of their struggle was confirmed when Joe Sartore, a National Geographic photographer, sank thigh deep in oil on nearby East Grand Terre Island and had to be pulled from the tar.

“I would have died if I would have been out here alone,” he said.

With no oil response workers on Queen Bess, Plaquemines Parish coastal zone management director P.J. Hahn decided he could wait no longer, pulling an exhausted brown pelican from the oil, slime dripping from its wings.

“We’re in the sixth week, you’d think there would be a flotilla of people out here,” Hahn said. “As you can see, we’re so far behind the curve in this thing.”

After six weeks with one to four birds a day coming into Louisiana’s rescue centre for oiled birds at Fort Jackson, 53 arrived Thursday and another 13 Friday morning, with more on the way. Federal authorities say 792 dead birds, sea turtles, dolphins and other wildlife have been collected from the Gulf of Mexico and its coastline.

Yet scientists say the wildlife death toll remains relatively modest, well below the tens of thousand of birds, otters and other creatures killed after the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Alaska’s Prince William Sound. The numbers have stayed comparatively low because the Deepwater Horizon rig was 50 miles off the coast and most of the oil has stayed in the open sea. The Valdez ran aground on a reef close to land, in a more enclosed setting.

Experts say the Gulf’s marshes, beaches and coastal waters, which nurture a dazzling array of life, could be transformed into killing fields, though the die-off could take months or years and unfold largely out of sight. The damage could be even greater beneath the water’s surface, where oil and dispersants could devastate zooplankton and tiny invertebrates at the base of the food chain.

“People naturally tend to focus on things that are most conspicuous, like oiled birds, but in my opinion the impacts on fisheries will be much more severe,” said Rich Ambrose, director of the environmental science and engineering at program at UCLA.

The Gulf is also home to dolphins and species including the endangered sperm whale. A government report found that dolphins with prolonged exposure to oil in the 1990s experienced skin injuries and burns, reduced neurological functions and lower hemoglobin levels in their blood. It concluded that the effects probably wouldn’t be lethal because many creatures would avoid the oil. Yet dolphins in the Gulf have been spotted swimming through plumes of crude.

The prospect left fishing guide Marino shaking his head, as he watched the oil washing into a marsh and over the body of a dead pelican. Species like shrimp and crab flourish here, finding protection in the grasses. Fish, birds and other creatures feed here.

“It’s going to break that cycle of life,” Marino said. “It’s like pouring gas in your aquarium. What do you think that’s going to do?”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Alberta vaccine rollout expanding to front-line health-care workers

More than 240,000 eligible health-care workers can begin booking vaccine appointments starting… Continue reading

File photo
The Red Deer Rebels will have three new assistant coaches when the WHL regular season starts on Friday. Brad Flynn (left), will be on the bench alongside fellow assistant Ryan Colville (right) head coach Brent Sutter (middle). (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Sutter steps down as Red Deer Rebels head coach

Red Deer Rebels Owner, GM and head coach Brent Sutter has stepped… Continue reading

Premier Jason Kenney announced $200 million more money that will benefit seniors living in continuing care on Wednesday. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta’s in-school rapid screening test program expanding

Alberta’s in-school rapid screening test program will expand to as many as… Continue reading

Parents and students learned Tuesday what the coming school year will look like. It's pretty much back to business as usual, said Education Minister Adriana LaGrange. School precautions include frequent cleaning, keeping students in the same groups where possible, planning the school day to allow for physical distancing and staying home when sick. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta’s largest school board says no to United Conservative draft school curriculum

CALGARY — Alberta’s largest school board says it will not use the… Continue reading

Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan is among those who have signed an open letter criticizing the government’s return to stricter health measures. (Advocate file photo).
Updated: Kenney tells UCP caucus COVID-19 dissent OK, breaking health rules means expulsion

15 MLAs released letter on Wednesday critical of new health restrictions

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau watches a speaker appear by videoconference during a news conference in Ottawa, Friday, April 9, 2021. Grassroots Liberals have overwhelmingly endorsed a resolution calling on the federal government to develop and implement a universal basic income — despite Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's apparent lack of enthusiasm for the idea. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau winds up Liberal convention with election campaign-style speech

OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau wound up a three-day Liberal convention Saturday with… Continue reading

Team Canada skip Brendan Bottcher makes a shot against Italy at the Men's World Curling Championships in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, April 6, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Men’s world curling championship in Calgary in COVID limbo

CALGARY — The men’s world curling championship in Calgary remained suspended Saturday… Continue reading

Pipes intended for construction of the Keystone XL pipeline are shown in Gascoyne, N.D. on Wednesday April 22, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alex Panetta
Non-profit Quebec law centre to aid environmental group targeted by Alberta oil firm

QUEBEC — The Quebec Environmental Law Centre is coming to the aid… Continue reading

Conservative leader Erin O'Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 6, 2020. Top Tory leaders of past and present will speak with supporters today about what a conservative economic recovery from COVID-19 could look like. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Conservatives cite empathy, relationships as ways to help expand their movement

OTTAWA — Conservatives should show empathy with Black residents who say they’ve… Continue reading

NDP Leader John Horgan celebrates his election win in the British Columbia provincial election in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. New Democrats are reconvening for the second day of a three-day policy convention as they look to push past the glitches of the virtual event's opening sessions and rally around keynote speaker John Horgan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
New Democrats reconvene as hiccups, frustrations plague national policy convention

OTTAWA — New Democrats reconvened Saturday for the second day of a… Continue reading

FILE - In this Monday, Oct. 23, 2017 file photo, President Donald Trump speaks during a joint statement with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. Former President Donald Trump plans to affirm his commitment to the Republican Party — and raise the possibility that someone else will be the GOP's next presidential nominee — in a closed-door speech to donors Saturday night, April 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)
Trump in 2024? He says only that ‘a Republican’ will win

PALM BEACH, Fla. — Former President Donald Trump plans to affirm his… Continue reading

A cruise ship sits docked waiting for passengers to be evacuated in Kingstown, on the eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent, Friday, April 9, 2021 due to the eruption of La Soufriere volcano. (AP Photo/Orvil Samuel)
Ash-covered St. Vincent braces for more volcanic eruptions

KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent — People who ignored an initial warning to evacuate… Continue reading

Owner of 4 Point Taekwondo Kevin Mejia holds a board as organizer and martial artist Kevin Olsen breaks it in Edmonton on Friday, April 9, 2021. One hundred martial artists from around the world, will be breaking a board for an event called "Break for a Breakthrough." The idea is for martial artists to unite and re-engage with the arts because they may have drifted away or lost enthusiasm as a result of the pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Break for a Breakthrough: Canadian hosts international martial arts demonstration

EDMONTON — Whether he’s breaking a wooden board, a clay tile, cement… Continue reading

Most Read