Submitted by mdipaola

I witnessed some first-class animal rescue last week in the Gulf of Mexico.  First, the  Oiled Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Theodore, Alabama opened its doors to the press, who got to see their skilled personnel shampoo a bird.  Two surgically-gloved handlers held the bird — a male laughing gull — under running water while they gently scrubbed him with a toothbrush, washed, rinsed, and repeated.  Most of the patients here take up to an hour and a half to clean, but this guy, who was lightly greased, was done in 15 minutes.

But even a little oil can kill a bird. Oily feathers become matted and separated, and birds lose their ability to fly, swim, and regulate body temperature. An oiled bird will incessantly preen its feathers, ingesting toxins that can cause fatal lung, liver, and kidney damage. Happily, the prognosis for the laughing gull is good, and he can expect to be released in a couple of days.

Later, at Gulf Islands National Seashore in Florida, a crew of National Park Service wildlife specialists excavated a Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle’s nest, then delicately transferred the 89 rubbery eggs to a climate-controlled truck, which headed to a NASA incubation facility on Florida’s east coast.  When the eggs hatch in a couple weeks, the hatchlings will be released at night from an undisclosed Florida beach. 

If all goes well, in 35 years or so the females will return to the north shore of the Gulf to lay eggs of their own.  Kemp’s Ridley is the smallest–and rarest–of sea turtles, and is on the Endangered Species list.

My sense is that these events are largely staged for the press, but … so what?  There is no doubting the genuine compassion of the biologists, wildlife handlers, and even BP hires who are all working like hell to save animals from the oil disaster. My trips to the Gulf this summer have been mostly depressing, but on this one I took away the tiniest sliver of optimism about our future.  If we care so much for a single bird or one clutch of turtle eggs, perhaps there’s hope for another species–ours.