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30 Birds, 15 Mammals Found Dead Monday During Refugio Oil Spill Response Efforts

Thirty dead birds and 15 dead mammals were found during the Refugio oil spill response Monday, an unusually high number for the wildlife rescue and rehabilitation efforts organized by the California Department of Fish & Wildlife and the Oiled Wildlife Care Network.

Since the May 19 spill in southern Santa Barbara County, near Refugio State Beach on the Gaviota Coast, responders have found a total of 57 live birds and 80 dead, with five live and 30 dead found during a 12-hour period on Monday.

All the reported birds had visible oiling, and even a dime-sized amount of oil can make a bird cold and cause problems, according to Lt. Sean Moe with the Department of Fish & Wildlife’s Oil Spill Prevention and Response.

The spill-impacted birds and mammals, mostly western brown pelicans and sea lions, have been found over a larger area than beaches impacted by the spill since they may have passed through the oily waters, officials have said.

There have been 38 total live mammals found and 45 dead mammals found, some without visible oiling. Cause of death can be determined by a necropsy if the natural resources damages assessment pursues one, Moe said at a press briefing last week.

On Monday alone, crews found two live mammals and 15 dead mammals.

Shoreline and boat-booming cleanup operations have moved from the Refugio and El Capitan state beaches to northern Ventura County so teams are evaluating more beaches, which could be a reason for the spike, said Rusty Harris-Bishop, a public information officer from the Environmental Protection Agency working at the incident's Joint Information Center.

Wildlife officials will be looking closely at Tuesday's and Wednesday’s numbers to see if the numbers stay high or whether it’s just a blip, he said.

“Instead of going out on individual responses as animals are reported, there is more comprehensive canvassing. They expanded the area and they are encountering more animals — it could be that, they don’t know for sure,” Harris-Bishop said. “If the animals are more lightly oiled, it would take longer for them to get ill and come to the shore.”

According to the response's incident command, there won't be nighttime clean-up on the beaches for the next few days since grunion spawning runs happen this time of year. "Grunion eggs on shore emerge during the high tides at night, and cleanup crews will be instructed to minimize disturbance to the sand as much as possible during the grunion run period," officials said in a statement late Tuesday.

Response efforts continue along the shoreline in southern Santa Barbara County and there will be a single-lane closure on southbound Highway 101 near Refugio State Beach from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily to make room for heavy equipment, according to the incident command. 

Update on traffic impacts and other response efforts can be found on the main Refugio Response website here

Noozhawk news editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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