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Trainees take to oil-spill course like ducks out of water

Ducks affected by oil-spill in a Palmerston North stream were released yesterday after regional council staff participating in an oiled wildlife response training course assisted in cleaning them.

The course was hosted by the University’s Wildlife Health Centre, and wildlife veterinarian Kerri Morgan says the call from Horizons Regional Council to the Centre’s Oiled Wildlife Response team came the day before the course attendees were due to arrive.

She made a call to the capture team – John Andrew (Department of Conservation) and Jim Lilley (Maritime New Zealand) – who assisted the council in capturing 13 oiled mallard ducks the next day for treatment.

At Massey, the 25 representatives from regional councils, the Department of Conservation and veterinary hospitals on the course learnt how to handle and stabilise the oiled birds before cleaning them with a mild detergent.

Ms Morgan says that although the Wildlife Health Centre’s focus is on native wildlife, the introduced ducks’ treatment was a valuable learning experience in preparation for more serious spills involved native and threatened species.

She says it takes at least an hour to clean an oiled bird once they have been stabilised with fluid electrolytes and their body temperature bought back to normal by a heating pad.

“The oil upsets the ultra-structure of the feathers and water can get to their skin. This loss of waterproofing means birds can become hypothermic. The oil also causes irritation to their mouths and nostrils and eyes. And they usually ingest a fair amount of oil when they preen, and in severe cases, birds develop gastrointestinal, kidney and liver disease which often kills them.”

The Oiled Wildlife Response team is able to mobilise its equipment and travel to spills with funding from Maritime NZ. In January 2006 the unit responded to a major spill in Queensland, Australia when a carrier lost more than 25 tonnes of heavy fuel oil after a collision.

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