If you don't live near the Gulf area, you may not realize that many animals are being negatively affected by the oil spill. To those animals, however, their daily lives are impacted in huge ways. For many of these animals, the oil spill and the resulting pollution will kill them.
Which animals are being affected? How does oil kill and poison them? Here are some answers.
What animals are affected by the spill?
Bird species include royal terns, Caspian terns, birds that frequent the marshes, such as mottled ducks, clapper and black rails, seaside sparrows, and birds who build nests along the shores, like American oystercatchers and Wilson's plovers.
Birds that live on the water are heavily infected. These include ducks, loons and grebes. Those that feed on the water are also susceptible. Gulls, terns, and herons feed on the water, so they are affected. Even birds of prey, like bald eagles and ospreys are at risk.
The state bird of Louisiana, the brown pelican, is also at risk. Pelicans are favorites with many people, because they are interesting to watch. Their lower jaws connect to a pouch that can expand to hold three times more than their stomachs can. The pouch is used like a net, to hold fish until the water is squeezed out.
Laughing gulls, ready to steal an easy meal, hang around near the pelicans, hoping to nab a fish. They hover above the pelicans or even perch on top their bills.
The pouch is also used as a way to cool the pelicans. Sometimes they use them to feed their young. They open their bills, and the babies stick their heads in and gobble up food.
How does the oil spill hurt the animals?
The oil causes damage because the animals breathe in oil, it gets on their food, so they eat it, and it gets on their bodies. The result is that they suffer damage to their respiratory and digestive systems, and suffer poisoning, which harms their organs, including lungs, kidneys, liver, and heart.
For birds, this also means the oil gets on their feathers, which decreases their waterproof-ness. As a result, birds get chilled, cannot stay afloat, and may not be able to fly.
For marine mammals, such as seals, otters, dolphins and manatees, the oil needs to be cleaned out of their fur, which usually leads to poisoning. It can also reduce the ability of these animals to stay warm in the water. All of these animals come to the surface to breathe, so they also suffer damage from inhaling and swallowing oil.
All of them can suffer burns from the oil contacting their skin. Sea turtles do not have this problem, but the oil still gets in their eyes, on their skin, and in their lungs when they come to the surface to breathe. Their food also becomes poisoned. Continuous exposure to the oil from spills reduces their overall health, making them more susceptible to disease and death.
What is being done to help?
Volunteers and experts at several rescue organizations are working around the clock to help. They collect injured animals, keep them in a safe place, and allow them to regain their health before being released. Many need to be cleaned, medicated, rehydrated, and stabilized. Sadly, they cannot help all of the animals, and many die.