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Pelicans hurt in spill released

Associated Press
Published August 8, 2005

BRETON NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE, La. - Nearly 200 young brown pelicans that survived an oil spill in June are now back in the wild.

Most have matured and joined wild birds, but a few still come back daily to feed, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist James Harris said. Fourteen others, too young to release, are with a wildlife rehabilitator in Baton Rouge.

Nearly 700 pelicans died and hundreds of others were treated by scientists and veterinarians after they became coated in oil or were poisoned by its toxins.

The cause of the spill is not yet known, but it happened about the time Tropical Storm Arlene hit the Florida Panhandle, said Greg Beuerman, a spokesman for Amerada Hess Corp., which owns the oil well involved.

The spill was discovered June 12 when workers who evacuated for the storm returned to the platform. The rescue of the birds began two days later.

Most were 5- to 6-week-old chicks who swallowed oil or who had toxins soak in through their skin. Their soft, downy feathers were ruined, leaving them unprotected from the sun on the treeless barrier island.

"Parent birds normally shade the young during the day," but many parents left after the spill, leaving the babies without shade or food, Harris said.

The rookery, which is in Breton National Wildlife Refuge, has been part of an effort to rebuild the state's brown pelican population, which was decimated by the use of pesticides like the now-banned DDT in the 1950s and 1960s.

[Last modified August 8, 2005, 02:45:22]

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