Gannets hit hardest by Gulf spill

8 07 2010

Spots of oil on a Northern Gannet. This bird is still well enough to fly.

A wildlife rescue operation based in Mobile, Alabama has reported that of the 420 oiled birds recovered in the Gulf, only 220 were found alive. And the species hardest hit by the spill appears to be the Northern Gannet.

Since the Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank on April 20th, experts have speculated that birds would not be severely impacted since the spill was so far off shore where few birds generally spend time. Most Gulf birds, like pelicans, loons and shorebirds, are found much closer to shore. Northern Gannets, however, routinely congregate and forage over deeper waters far from shore, and as a result, they have been exposed to more of the oil spewing from the broken well-head on the ocean floor.

Seabird expert Bill Montevecchi has pointed out the interconnectedness of seabird populations, and gannets are one of his prime examples. The birds nest largely on rocky islands in Quebec, so gannets affected by the spill that survive to breed will ultimately travel through much SEANET territory on their way up the East Coast. And since many oiled birds are never found, whether dead or alive, it’s possibly that Seanetters could encounter either live or dead birds that show some degree of external oiling, or that carry invisible impacts of oil ingestion.

Addendum: I want to recognize the excellent photography of Julian Bell, who maintains a great website, Natural Born Birder. The photo shown here was borrowed from his site, and he has many great shots there, so please visit!

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