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UC Davis wildlife care team responds to Santa Barbara County Oil spill

A sea lion covered in oil struggles on the beach just west of El Refugio State Beach, about 100 feet from where the oil spill flowed into the ocean in Santa Barbara County on Thursday, May 21, 2015.
A sea lion covered in oil struggles on the beach just west of El Refugio State Beach, about 100 feet from where the oil spill flowed into the ocean in Santa Barbara County on Thursday, May 21, 2015. Los Angeles Times

Members from the Oiled Wildlife Care Network at UC Davis have joined crews responding to the oil spill in Santa Barbara County, where they are coordinating the wildlife rescue effort as part of an interagency response team.

Staff and faculty members were called away from an oil spill conference in Alaska to respond Thursday to the Santa Barbara County spill, which released 105,000 gallons of crude oil with an estimated 21,000 gallons entering the water.

Five oiled pelicans and one oiled sea lion had been rescued as of 2 p.m. Thursday, according to a UC Davis news release. The birds were taken to the Los Angeles Oiled Bird Care and Education Center in San Pedro. The facility is designed to care for up to 1,000 birds that have swallowed, inhaled or been coated with oil.

The sea lion was transferred to the Oiled Wildlife Care Center at SeaWorld San Diego.

Oiled Wildlife Care Network officials say it is too early to estimate what effect the spill will have on wildlife.

“Just because there’s a lot of oil in the environment doesn’t mean we will have huge numbers of animals,” Mike Ziccardi, director of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network at UC Davis, said in a written statement. “Sometimes there are small spills with large numbers of animals and huge spills with just a few animals.”

So far, the team has not seen large numbers of wildlife, he said, but it can take days for animals to get sick or weak from ingesting oil, or getting oil on their skin or plumage.

The rescue team urges members of the public who spot an oiled animal not to try to pick it up, noting that this can cause the animal further harm. Instead, people are advised to immediately call the Oiled Wildlife Care Network at UC Davis, (877) 823-6926. The network is managed by the UC Davis Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center, which is part of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

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