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Seabirds fall victim to natural oil seepage off Santa Barbara

March 7, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
Technicians at International Bird Rescue in San Pedro have been busy treating dozens of penguin-like seabirds soaked in oil that have been washing up along the Southern California coastline.

Naturally occurring oil seeping from the ocean floor off Santa Barbara is endangering the birds known as Common Murres. In recent weeks, the birds have washed ashore from Santa Barbara to Seal Beach sick and malnourished.

The rescue center has so far treated 124 of the birds. Getting the oil off as quickly as possible is crucial. Birds are sometimes treated and given nourishment for days to get them strong enough to be washed.

"When they beach themselves and their oiled, they may get other injuries that may flare up during that time, there might be burns resulting from the oil," said Neil Uelman, a wildlife technician.

After they're thoroughly cleaned, they're given a series of baths to prepare them for their return to the ocean. The process can take several days.

"Just seeing them going from being completely caked in that thick tar to being completely water proof and having their feathers be pristine again is a wonderful part of our job," said Julie Skoglund, the center's manager.