Thursday, July 23, 2015

White Pelicans Suffer from BP Spill

The brown pelican became the symbol of the Deepwater Horizon disaster after pictures of oil soaked birds circulated through the Internet and television. It is the migrating American white pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) that is providing the latest evidence of the oil spill's lasting environmental impact. Mark Neuzil tells us in the latest issue of Audubon Magazine, that scientists from North Dakota State University are finding traces of oil and dispersant contamination from the Gulf in eggs and nuptial tubercles [bill knob, photo] that the white pelicans shed each mating season. The samples come from Marsh Lake on the Minnesota River where 14,000 pelican pairs nest each May and June. Marsh Lake is over 1400 miles from the Gulf. American white pelicans migrate all the way into Canada's prairie provinces. The verification of damage to wildlife protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act is important in determining how money from the various lawsuits against BP is distributed. Making the connection between BP-caused contamination and remote species is not easy, but the researchers say their results are consistent with that hypothesis. Further anaylsis of the samples may offer more conclusive proof since oil from a particular field has a definitive spectroscopy. Other researchers are planning to fit pelicans with GPS units so their migratory routes and stopovers can be precisely located. The data will help pinpoint areas that should be priorities for conservation.