As the expanding oil spill threatens wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico, the Aquarium's Marine Animal Rescue Team is preparing for possible response scenarios. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), part of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is already on the scene at an Incident Command Center. The Aquarium is part of the National Marine Stranding Network, and it is very likely that we will be called in to help rehabilitate animals affected by the spill.
The current oil spill estimate from www.noaa.gov.
Training and certification is essential during times like this, and our rescue team is trained in Incident Command, which is the organizational system used by the federal government in large-scale incidents. We also have oil spill training which includes familiarity with the systems, tools and safety precautions necessary during an oil spill response.
Above, one of this year's rescued sea turtles, Voyageurs, is getting some fluid therapy to help with electrolyte imbalance. Read more about this rescue in this post. Sea turtles are one of the many species the rescue team has experience treating that will likely be affected by the oil spill.
Most of the training surrounding oil spills focuses on how to de-oil animals. This is particularly important for sea birds. Sea turtles will likely be much easier to de-oil, but the major danger will be injury due to inflammation of the mucous membrane, ingestion and respiratory problems. Many of these problems will be the same for marine mammals.
Right now, I am headed to a stranding network meeting in Maine, where I will learn more about the response strategy to this spill. There is an additional certification necessary, Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER), for teams to be on the ground removing animals from the oil. Right now, no one on the Aquarium staff has that training, but our expertise with sea turtle rescue and rehabilitation will definitely be useful at nearby rehabilitation centers on the gulf coast.
Note on volunteering: Right now, we are referring people to BP's oil spill info line to get more information on volunteering: (866) 448-5816.