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Photo of a young brown pelican in Gulf oil spill disaster. A young brown pelican attempts to keep its balance on an oil boom in the Gulf of Mexico. (Sean Gardner / Reuters)

Gulf Wildlife Still at Risk

Area’s oil-plagued ecosystem will be closely monitored for months or years

July 30 , 2010

The oil has stopped gushing from the well in the Gulf of Mexico and appears to be dissolving from the surface. This is good news. However, experts say they must still pay close attention to the wildlife that depends on the ecosystem in the Gulf for their survival.

As the oil slick continues to dissolve, it reduces the risk of more animals being harmed or killed, but serious concern for these creatures remains. Rebecca Dmytryk, search-and-capture specialist for International Bird Rescue, said: "We have to see what the food chain does. Is there enough fish out there still alive for the pelicans and other birds to eat? It's not just the birds being affected. It's the chain of life out there in the Gulf. There are so many questions. We have never had to deal with such a massive spill."

The hundreds of pelicans that had to be cleaned and rehabilitated are not immediately being returned to the Gulf, even though there is less oil on the water. Dr. Michael Ziccardi, who is director of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network and an oil spill veterinarian, told Scholastic News Online, "Right now, we are still releasing birds back into areas where we are sure oil cannot affect them. While oil is largely off the water, we are still concerned if there is any residual oil in the marshes and other beach habitat."

Even the healthy pelicans that were not covered by oil in the Gulf are still not out of harm's way. Although pelicans are very hardy and do not have to stay in the water all the time like loons and other "true" seabirds do, they have to plunge into the water to catch fish for food. It is not fully known at this time how much of that food has been negatively impacted by the oil spill. Ziccardi says, "Our largest concern at this point is the possible long-term effects on the population, which is why scientific studies are now being developed to follow these animals over time to see what these chronic effects might be."

Thousands of gallons of chemicals were used to break up the oil a mile deep, so concern remains that much of the leaked oil could still be trapped beneath the water's surface. This, according to scientists, could alter the Gulf ecosystem and affect wildlife there for months or years to come.

Click here for an interview on how to clean an oiled pelican.

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