Animal rescue experts race to save wildlife affected by California oil spill

Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr calls spill 'potential ecological disaster' as crude oil makes shore

A seagull eats a dead fish on the oil-soaked shores of Huntington Beach, California. Photo: AP
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Animal rescues have been increased along the Pacific Coast of California where oil began spilling from a broken pipeline connected to an offshore platform known as Elly on Saturday night.

An estimated 572,800 litres of heavy crude oil began leaking into the Pacific Ocean, hitting the shore precariously close to designated nature zones, including the Huntington Beach Wetlands and the Talbert Wetlands Preserve.

The spill is soaking animals in oil and leaving dead fish in its wake.

“So far we have recovered four birds but unfortunately one of those, a brown pelican, had to be euthanised,” veterinarian Dr Michael Ziccardi said at Huntington Beach Wetlands Conservancy .

“Typically with spills like these we are here working for weeks, sometimes months.”

Dr Ziccardi, who was in charge of animal rescue during the Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010, the worst in American history, said he was cautiously optimistic after initial assessments of harm to wildlife, but that could change.

“Hotshot teams are being set up to respond to calls from the public who may see oiled animals in distress,” he said.

He asked that the public not try to rescue the animals.

A local businesswoman told The National that there are birds drenched in oil waddling around the shores and that locals have no idea how badly the wetlands have been affected.

A staff member at the California Department Fish and Wildlife examines a sanderling covered in oil from the spill at Huntington Beach on Monday.

The Southern California Spill Response team said about 14,320 litres of oil has been recovered from the water, and that 1,634 metres of booms had been installed.

Booms are plastic or metal barriers dragged and dropped into areas affected by oil spills, which help to slow the spread and keep it contained.

There is no way to accurately assess the devastation to marine animals below the surface.

Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr said she did not know how much of the spill had been contained or how it was caused.

Ms Carr, who grew up in the area, called the spill an "environmental catastrophe" and a "potential ecological disaster".

The beachside city, about 65 kilometres south of Los Angeles, was bearing the brunt of the spill, which is stretching from the Huntington Beach Pier to Newport Beach and moving slowly south.

Kathy Wishard of El Segundo, a beach community near the Los Angeles International Airport, told The National that the spill had not reached their shores, but “it is a total disaster".

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife ordered a fishery closure for coastal areas affected by the spill and no fish from the waters are to be eaten.

“Take of all fish and shellfish is immediately prohibited from Huntington Beach to Dana Point, including the shorelines and offshore areas and all bays” until further notice, the department said.

Shares of oil and natural gas company Amplify Energy, which is responsible for the rig, dropped nearly 63 per cent.

Amplify chief executive Martyn Willsher said the pipeline had been shut off and the remaining oil sucked out.

Mr Willsher said that divers were assessing where and why the spill occurred.

Updated: October 04, 2021, 8:14 PM