Hunters and public play a part in oiled bird situation

Karen Wells
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Report oiled birds, appropriately dispose of harvested birds

UPDATE: The Department of Fisheries and Oceans Communications Branch for the Newfoundland and Labrador Region provided an update on the bird-hazing device in the area of the Manolis L and monitoring activities.

The noise-making device to deter birds from the area of the Manolis L. is no longer operational. The device was lost when it iced over with freezing spray and was washed away by heavy seas.

Coast Guard is in the process (as of Jan. 27) of obtaining a replacement bird-hazing device which will be installed (if required) when weather conditions and sea ice conditions permit.

Oil has not been observed on the water since the new cofferdam was put in place.

The Coast Guard Environmental Response team will continue to monitor the site using Transport Canada aerial surveillance as well as Coast Guard helicopters and vessels.

They continue to urge the public to report any sightings of oil to the Environmental Emergencies Line at (709) 772-2083 or 1-800-563-9089.

In addition, if the noise-making device or parts of the device are found, please contact Coast Guard.

By KAREN WELLS

The Pilot

 

COVERAGE AREA — With reports of oiled birds coming from Fogo Island, Change Islands, Stoneville, Lewisporte and even into Cape Freels, Environment Canada has issued an advisory asking people not to consume oiled birds, and to report the ones they come in contact with.

“We are having reports come in through our National Environmental Emergency Centre, we are seeing it in the social media and direct reports to us here,” said Environment Canada Northern Conservation and Species at Risk manager Kim Mawhinney. “Most reports are coming from the Fogo Island and Change Islands areas, but we are starting to get some as far east as Cape Freels which is 85 kilometers east of the site (of the sunken Manolis L. vessel).”

But Ms. Mawhinney notes that the area from Fogo Island to Cape Freels is all within the winter range for these birds, with the most common sighted or shot by hunters being eider ducks. Some long-tailed ducks, dovekeys and murrs have also been reported.

Just because birds spotted a significant distance away have oil on them doesn’t mean that the oil spill has extended that far. She explained that it could be that the birds came in contact with the oil closer to the original spill and have been spotted in other areas as part of their general movement patterns throughout the winter.

 

Contaminated

Ms. Mawhinney said reports started out as visual reports, with birds out on the water behaving like they were oiled.

“Essentially eiders are out on the water but when they are up on the rocks or along the coastline, that is an odd behaviour, that’s what the reports were,” she said.

When the hunting season started hunters reported collecting oiled birds in their harvest. Collection depots were set up in a number of places like Change Islands, Fogo Island, Twillingate and Clarenville for the oiled bird carcasses.

“We are asking the hunters, as these birds are a contaminated organism, they need to be properly disposed,” said Ms. Mawhinney. “So we set up a situation where the hunters can provide their oiled bird carcasses to the depots and then we are arranging for pick up of the carcasses, bringing them back to here to the animal health department and assessing the birds.”

Ms. Mawhinney doesn’t encourage people to discard the birds at sea, and in fact, to do so violates the Migratory Bird Convention Act. The birds that are harvested — oiled or not — will be considered part of the hunters daily harvest level. Consumption of the oiled birds is also advised against because they are considered contaminated.

“We have had good cooperation from hunters from them turning in the birds that were oiled,” she said. “We appreciate that cooperation as we can use some of that information (from examination of the oiled birds) to assess some of the impact of the situation.”

The birds they have encountered range from slightly oiled, to heavily oiled (75 to 100 per cent oiled), but the average is around 30 per cent.

Ms. Mawhinney explained that when the birds come in contact with the oil it is readily absorbed into the feathers and it mats the feathers and it allows the sea water to penetrate the external feathers. When this happens it decreases the insulation from the cold as well as their waterproofing and buoyancy.

“In the North Atlantic this can eventually lead to hypothermia and other associated health issues and in addition to this, often when this happens to birds, their instinct is to preen and obviously once the oil is ingested it is toxic to the inner organs,” she said.

Organizations: Environment Canada, Migratory Bird Convention, Conservation and Protection Office Department of Fisheries and Oceans 40 Toulinquet Street Twillingate Fogo Island Conservation and Protection Office Department of Fisheries and Oceans 18 Iceberg Arena Road Canadian Wildlife Service Animal Health Division Department of Natural Resources

Geographic location: Fogo Island, Change Islands, Cape Freels Stoneville North Atlantic Newfoundland

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