Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Paul Tritaik, right, manager of the J.N. 'Ding' Darling National Wildlife Refuge, assists with the release of a pelican from Louisiana at Gulfside City Park on Monday afternoon.
A crowd of about 100 onlookers was witness to the release of more than three dozen birds injured off the coast of Louisiana, victims of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, at Gulfside City Park on Monday afternoon.
The birds, which included 21 brown pelicans and 17 northern gannets, had been transported from New Orleans to Fort Myers earlier in the day. Packed into wildlife cargo containers, four vans brought the animals — cleaned of oil and rehabilitated by volunteers from Tri-State Bird Rescue — and representatives of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service from Page Field to Sanibel.
"All of these birds came in to us in relatively good condition, so I think that they've got an excellent chance to survive," said Dr. Jenny Powers, wildlife veterinarian from the National Wildlife Service, who traveled from Louisiana with the 38 birds, each of whom was banded with two red tags for identification purposes.
Dr. Powers said that she is hopeful that the pelicans and gannets will adapt to Sanibel's habitat quickly.
"Since we started releasing oiled birds back into the wild, we haven't seen any of them returning to oiled areas," she added. "But we have had reports of them nesting in the areas where we released them."
Paul Tritaik, refuge manager of the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge, took part in Monday's release.
"It felt really great to be a part of a success story like this," he said. "I think these birds are being given a good chance at finding new homes along Sanibel's shores. The island provides an excellent nesting and foraging habitat for both species."
Among the spectators looking on throughout the release, which took approximately 45 minutes to complete, was Steve Greenstein, executive director for CROW (Clinic for the Rehabilitation Of Wildlife). Although his group was not officially a part of the bird release, he attended the event to show their support for the work being done by volunteers and other organizations impacted by the British Petroleum disaster.
"There are a lot of different places being considered for these releases, so the selection of Sanibel as a release point only confirms our community's ethic of how we live cooperatively with wildlife," said Greenstein. "The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is doing an amazing job."
One by one, the cargo containers were carried to the shoreline. Members of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service carefully separated the tops and bottoms of each container, allowing the gannets to swim freely into the Gulf waters while letting the pelicans fly freely into the open air, with applause from the crowd cheering them on.
"What we're seeing here is the final step in a long process of treatment and recovery," added Greenstein. "Watching a release like this is so inspirational."
Kim Young, visiting from Covington, Ga., was grinning widely following the release of the final pair of pelicans.
"This was just spectacular," she said. "We've been coming down here for 30 years and have seen the sea turtles coming out of their nests, but this was completely unique. I'm so happy to have seen it."
By JEFF LYSIAK