Animals once covered in oil due to spill in OC nursed to health and released back into wild

A total of 28 live birds and 45 dead birds have been collected since the spill, according to the Oiled Wildlife Care Network.
ORANGE COUNTY, Calif. (KABC) -- Following the oil spill in Huntington Beach earlier this month, the Oiled Wildlife Care Network along with the Department of Fish and Wildlife have released some of the birds cleansed of oil back into the wild.

The network's director, Michael Ziccardi, said as of Wednesday, the group has collected 28 live birds and 45 dead birds since the spill. A total of 85 animals have been rescued, including 11 fish and one mammal, which is not a marine animal.

The zest to find and treat wildlife saturated with oil has been a painstaking process for wildlife rescue crews. To finally place some animals back in their natural habitat has been an emotional moment for the crews.



"The first planned release of oiled animals after and during an incident is just a joyous occasion," said Zacardi. "We see these animals in such condition ... so the ability to take something and take an animal that's affected, so affected, during an accident such as this, and return it back to the environment, it's a time of celebration."

With the oil spill cleanup effort heading in the right direction, the Oiled Wildlife Care Network hopes to be able to wind down their search and rescue operation soon. They plan to release more wildlife nursed back to health into their natural habitat soon.



Zacardi said crews are continuing to rescue more animals.

Since the spill, fishing has been barred off the coast of Orange County. State officials are taking samples of fish to assess whether they have been affected by the oil before allowing fishing to resume.

Workers in protective gear were seen combing the sand for tar balls washing ashore along more than 70 miles of coastline in Orange and San Diego counties. Roy Kim, an environmental scientist with California's Office of Spill Prevention and Response, said the size of tar balls being collected on beaches has diminished from the early days after the spill.

"They were seeing huge patties of oil in the beginning," Kim said, adding that the oil slick has largely been broken up into tar balls by the tides and winds. "Now you're just kind of seeing the smaller stuff."

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The amount of crude oil spilled in an offshore pipeline leak in Southern California is believed to be close to 25,000 gallons, the Coast Guard said.



Crews are also working to remove oil from rocky coastal habitat while being careful not to damage it, he said.

Oil is naturally present off the coast of Southern California, and residents are used to seeing tar on beaches, California Fish and Wildlife Lt. Christian Corbo said. Tar samples collected in the cleanup will be sent to a state petroleum chemistry lab to determine whether they are from the spill, he said.

In the coming days, workers will likely start assessing beach conditions in specific areas to determine whether the cleanup is complete, Ore said.

While it's still possible tar balls will wash up from the spill after that point - and officials will continue to respond to reports that come in - "at some point, and we're evaluating this right now, we reach a point where we recommend no further treatment on segments of the beach," she said.



The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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