Wow, where to start? It’s been a whirlwind week. I’ve been away since Friday – thus the radio silence for the last several days – and I’m turning right around to hit the road again for a number of author appearances this week. I’ll be on the road until Saturday, so please forgive the lack of updates during the coming week. Although I will do my best to post from the road, time and internet access may make it a bit challenging. O.K., enough about that – now on the important stuff, and the real reason why you (and I) are here.
There is both good news and bad news coming from the Tristan da Cunha islands. The good news is that a ship carrying supplies and five experienced penguin rehabilitators from SANCCOB has FINALLY left Cape Town. More than a week was lost jumping through several political hoops before they got permission to sail to the islands. With every passing day, the penguins are growing weaker from hunger and from the toxic effects of being smothered in oil, so time is of the essence. The ship is carrying frozen fish and penguin washing supplies to the area. But these supplies are limited and the penguins are many. Bad weather is also hampering the rescue efforts – and will likely slow the ship’s progress as well. For more details about this, please see this article in yesterday’s Cape Argus newspaper: Birds rescued from Tristan oil spill. (The Cape Argus site is now all wonky – but this link has a copy of John Yeld’s original article.)
Briefly, here is where things stand: Approximately 1,000 oiled Rockhopper penguins have been rescued, and are being cared for by 100 islanders. Local fishermen have been catching fish to feed the penguins until the frozen fish arrives with the long-awaited ship. Another 1,000 or so penguins that have not yet been oiled have been corralled to keep them from entering the water and getting oiled. The plan is to transport them far from the oil-polluted waters, and release them into clean waters. Penguins have excellent homing instincts, and hopefully the area will be cleaned of the oil by the time the penguins find their way home.
This same strategy was used very effectively once before. During the rescue of African penguins from the Treasure oil spill in June of 2000, 19,506 clean penguins were transported 500 miles away from the oiled waters of Table Bay and released at Cape Recife in Port Elizabeth to swim back to their islands. Which they did in about two week’s time. They arrived just as workers had finished cleaning up the spill. This was a risky experiment at the time – nobody had tried this technique before, but at that point in the rescue, there was no more room to house another 20,000 penguins (on top of the 20,000 oiled penguins already at the rescue centers), and there were not enough people to care for them either. Luckily, their experiment worked. Based on this success, conservation workers proposed utilitzing this strategy in future spills. Which, for better or worse, they now have the opportunity to try again.
(For an animated map of the epic swim made by three of the Treasure penguins from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town, click here.)
Sadly, there are thousands of oiled penguins (an estimated 10,000-20,000) still waiting to be rescued on the Tristan islands. The stark reality is that there just is not the manpower or the resources available to be able to rescue many of these birds. This is truly a devastating blow for the endangered Northern Rockhopper penguin.
I must leave shortly, so I apologize for not providing more details in this post. I’m including links to a few sites that should fill in some of the gaps for now. For continued updates on the oil spill rescue and recovery efforts, I recommend the following websites:
The official Tristan da Cunha website about the MS Oliva spill: http://www.tristandc.com/newsmsolivahelp.php
The ACAP website has daily updates: http://www.acap.aq/latest-news/breaking-news-bulk-carrier-ms-oliva-has-run-aground-on-tristans-nightingale-island
The Ocean Doctor (Dr. David Guggenheim): http://oceandoctor.org/
To donate to this vitally important rescue effort, please visit The Ocean Foundation.
Sandra Birnhak is also collecting donations for the rescue effort through her Crowdwise page here.
Please continue to spread the word everyone! And many thanks to all of you for sharing your concern for these beautiful seabirds.
Dyan deNapoli – Penguin expert and author of The Great Penguin Rescue.