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Birds off Southern California coast coated in oil from natural seep; no funds to help

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POSTED March 2, 2012 8:44 p.m.

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The International Bird Rescue center is seeing a spike in the number of birds coated with oil seeping from the ocean floor along the Southern California coast, with more than 100 brought into the center in the last two months.

Most of the birds have been murres, penguin-like diving birds, but there have also been common loons, Pacific loons, Western grebes, an eared grebe, a surf scoter, and a rhinoceros auklet, IBR Director Emeritus Jay Holcomb said Friday.

Because the oil seepage is natural, there is no money budgeted to round up threatened birds like there would be in the case of a human-caused oil spill, he said. As a result, the only birds the center is seeing are those brought in by people visiting Santa Barbara area beaches.

The IBR had to start seeking donations to help pay for cleaning all the extra birds.

As many as 6,600 gallons of oil a day seep from the ocean floor in the Santa Barbara Channel near Coal Oil Point. The worst time for the birds is November to May, Holcomb said. Many migrate during the summer, so bird populations drop and fewer get coated.

Oil messes up the natural waterproofing on a bird's feathers, leaving the bird unable to maintain its body temperature and susceptible to hypothermia.

Last year, the Los Angeles IBR center got 100 oiled birds during the whole period, and there were even fewer the year before.

"This year, we've already had 109, and we know there are more coming in," Holcomb said.

Murres had disappeared from Southern California until a couple of years ago.

"Now they are the bulk of the birds being oiled. They are expanding their range, which is really exciting because they are nesting on the Channel Islands for the first time in 100 years," Holcomb said.

Some oiled birds are dying before they get to shore, he said. "Some are found cold, wet and hypothermic on the beach. Some don't come to the shore until they are really weak."

He said he couldn't be sure how many of those brought in they had saved or lost, but "some are thriving."


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