Should Oil-soaked Birds be Cleaned or Euthanized?

The pictures we see of birds and other wildlife affected by the Gulf oil spill are heartbreaking. What should we do about them? Some wildlife experts advocate euthanizing instead of cleaning individual birds.
"Kill, don't clean," recommends Silvia Gaus, a biologist at NationalPark Wattenmeer (Wadden Sea National Park) in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein. Unfortunately, despite some short-term success in cleaning birds and releasing them into the wild, few, if any, have a chance of surviving even for a few months, reports Ms Gaus, who has worked as a biologist for 20 years.

"According to serious studies, the middle-term survival rate of oil-soaked birds is under 1 percent," Ms Gaus explained. "We, therefore, oppose cleaning birds."

Blogger and evolutionary biologist GrrlScientist took a closer look at those serious studies and found the survival rate of oiled birds depends on a number of factors, and can be as high as 100% among some populations. She advocates making the effort to clean and release birds.
I disagree with Ms Gaus's gloomy policy. Because all people use oil or oil-related products in some form, I maintain that it is both ethical and responsible to try to save as many oiled birds and other wildlife as we can. Some wildlife management professionals argue that cleaning oiled birds isn't worth the monetary cost and effort since little or no impact can be made on a species level. But actually, we don't know this to be true. Additionally, I ask you; what amount of money and effort is too much, and who should be making those decisions anyway? Further, what do we, as scientists and as a society, gain by trying to save these unfortunate animals? Certainly, I think it is imperative to develop our technology to the best level possible so we can use it to help all birds, whether their populations are doing fine or they are threatened or endangered, so we are capable of helping them in the sad event that they are impacted by an oil spill. This requires that we continually refine and improve our techniques and equipment to do the job properly.

There is much more information on previous spills and bird survival rates at Living the Scientific Life. What do you think? Should we leave oiled birds to their fate, euthanize them, or wash and rehabilitate them one by one? Link

(Image credit: Paul Buck/EPA)

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Working for an oil and gas company (not BP) I've been on environmental clean up jobs, and I've washed and rehabilitated many birds. It's not as taxing and time strenuous at all. It doesn't take that long to clean a bird up.

Now rehabilitating it and cleaning the inside does take time and effort. But mostly it's because it costs a lot of money. In this case, money is not an issue. BP is paying whatever it takes to make this problem go away (already $1.43 billion). Sorry but I say treat them like you would your own personal animal.

Sometimes there's too much damage, but that's few and far between (and they are often very old animals). You can't just go euthanizing animals because it's easier rather than cleaning them up.

P.S. that's bs what she said about few surviving...she needs to realize the new technology of environmental cleanup
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We are the caretakers for this planet and so far we are doing a really sucky job. I feel that we should do all we can to fix the damage that was done. So yes I feel that we should be caring for the birds in the best way possible. And sometimes the best care we can give is to let them painlessly pass over. Everything should be case by case with money being no object but suffering will.
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euthanizing always sounds reasonable unless we're talking about YOU. wouldn't you want people to make the effort for your sake. if the birds can't function back in the wild, then let bp foot the bill for a few sanctuaries.
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There is so much conflicting info. One expert claims >1%, while the other says "up to 100%". There just isn't enough info to take a proper side. We also don't know how long cleaned birds will survive after being released. That's a pretty big factor.

However, assuming that there is a significant rate of long term survival for cleaned birds, let's just say 25%, go for it. It is however extremely cruel to subject a bird to manhandling, forcefeeding, medication, bathing and everything else that's part of the cleaning process if nothing good is expected to come of it. Stressing them out just so they can die of liver failure in a few days instead of hypothermia in a few hours doesn't seem like a good tradeoff.

We should all remember that the best relief efforts are done in the best interests of the victims, not those that give the fortunate the best warm fuzzy feelings.
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