Cleaning birds and mammals

When an oil spill occurs, the cleaning of birds and
mammals is an important issue which attracts a lot
of media attention. For a long time, this was more of a remedy for people’s consciences than an operation of real ecological value, as few subjects survived for more than a few days after the stress and damage caused by the oiling, intoxication by ingestion of hydrocarbons and cleaning.

However, cleaning techniques and products have
been considerably improved and refined over the last twenty years. Today, there are specialised teams which can intervene very quickly in any part of the world, with products which have been specially adapted to their needs. Animals are no longer released as soon as they have been cleaned but rather are placed in feeding and swimming rehabilitation basins. These specialised clinics manage to save up to two thirds of the oiled organisms which are brought in.

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Animal rescue


Recent studies cast a shadow over this positive picture, highlighting the abnormally high mortality rate in cleaned animals during the months following their release into the natural environment. Affected by the pollution, their capture, cleaning and the biological and physiological effects of inhalation and ingestion of oil, some of the individuals rescued no longer have the defence mechanisms necessary to survive in the natural environment. Researchers are currently working to accurately monitor the fate of rescued organisms and to develop more effective and less stressful procedures, products and tools.

However, by far the most effective solution is to move as many birds and mammals as possible away from the polluted areas. This can be achieved by the movement of people and boats, and the noise of engines and flares.

Bird scaring buoys, which can be launched from boats and emit several dozen different sounds in sequences of 20 to 50 seconds, have been successfully tested, without the birds becoming accustomed to the devices as quickly as with other techniques. They emit sounds which keep away 85% of seabirds within a radius of 800 metres for 3 consecutive days. They are autonomous buoys which can drift within an oil slick or can be anchored in front of a contaminated shore. They can also be used as a preventative means where there is a risk of a spill which may contaminate birds, such as on offshore oil platforms.

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The Yves Rocher laboratories, the CHENE Association (Centre d’Hébergement et d’Étude sur la Nature et l’Environnement) and the French oil industry have developed a bird cleaning machine and a mild shampoo.

This system treats animals more quickly than by hand washing and is therefore thought by certain care centres to noticeably reduce the stress generated by cleaning operations.