Re­habbed pel­i­cans freed af­ter Santa Bar­bara spill

Birds treated in L.A. take flight in Go­leta, the first res­cued an­i­mals to re­turn.

Los Angeles Times - - THE STATE - By Javier Pan­zar javier.pan­zar@la­times.com

The re­ha­bil­i­tated brown pel­i­cans wad­dled out of their cages and into the surf at Go­leta Beach, slowly stretch­ing their wings af­ter a three-hour car ride from a Los An­ge­les care cen­ter.

A large crowd of sci­en­tists, re­porters and beach­go­ers gath­ered Fri­day to watch the 10 pel­i­cans re­turn to the wild, the first res­cued an­i­mals to be re­leased af­ter thou­sands of gal­lons of oil spilled along the Santa Bar­bara County coast last month.

The pel­i­cans be­gan flap­ping their wings and took flight over the ocean.

“They are home again,” vet­eri­nar­ian Christine Fiorello said.

The birds were among hun­dreds of an­i­mals whose coats, skin, beaks or ap­pendages were dam­aged by thick crude af­ter a pipe owned by Plains All Amer­i­can Pipe­line rup­tured on May 19, spilling more than 100,000 gal­lons of oil into the ocean and along the coast­line.

In the com­ing weeks, the re­main­der of the more than 100 birds and mam­mals res­cued fromthe spill will be re­turned to the wild.

An­other 260 dead birds and mam­mals were found in the spill area.

In all, 10 adult pel­i­cans were re­leased af­ter a teamof sci­en­tists from UC Davis’ Oiled Wildlife Care Net­work spent three weeks clean­ing and nurs­ing them back to health in Los An­ge­les.

Five of the re­leased pel­i­cans were out­fit­ted with small so­lar-pow­ered satel­lite track­ers. The birds could fly to the Chan­nel Is­lands or as far away as Baja Mex­ico, said Michael Zic­cardi, the direc­tor of the care net­work.

Zic­cardi, who has re­sponded to more than 50 oil spills, said re­leas­ing healthy an­i­mals “feels re­mark­able, ev­ery time.”

The 10 birds flew about 100 yards off the beach and gath­ered in a bunch on the wa­ter.

The crowd, full of young chil­dren and fam­i­lies cel­e­brat­ing with new grad­u­ates from UC Santa Bar­bara, cheered.

Pho­to­graphs by Kent Nishimura Los An­ge­les Times

A CROWD watches as one of the newly freed pel­i­cans tests its wings at Go­leta Beach. The birds were re­ha­bil­i­tated at the Los An­ge­les Oiled Bird Care and Ed­u­ca­tion Cen­ter in San Pe­dro.

IN COM­ING weeks, the rest of more than 100 birds and mam­mals res­cued from the spill will be re­leased.

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