Wildlife Center to play role in post-spill Gulf
Story by Chris Graham
They’ve got plenty of people down on the Gulf Coast washing oil off birds. Ed Clark is focusing his attention at the Wildlife Center of Virginia on ecosystem issues.
“We don’t need to go down there and wash birds. They’re already well cared for by the professional groups. What we’re working on is the evaluation of what might be the long-term implications for wildlife, not only in that region, but since migratory birds come through that ecosystem, it might eventually mean that water fowl in Virginia have health effects that originate with the oil spill. Or it could be eagles eating fish that died from oil contamination that floated up to the surface, since eagles are scavengers. What might that oil do to those eagles? The implications of this are enormous, and there really aren’t any good mechanisms in place to follow up on them,” said Clark on Thursday.
The Waynesboro-based Wildlife Center of Virginia is one of the world’s foremost authorities on wildlife and conservation medicine. Clark envisions a role for the Center in leading research efforts into the long-term impacts related to the Gulf oil spill and developing systems for how to deal with the impacts.
“The bad news is we’ve got a long-term environmental disaster for which the tools are not really in place to respond, either directly to the oil, as we’re now finding out, or the long-term monitoring. But the good news is we’ve been at the business of studying wildlife and wildlife-health issues in a clinical setting for several decades, and we have a lot of tools in place that can be very slightly refined or modified for application in this,” Clark said.
Clark is working out the details of a visit to the Gulf in the coming weeks. He cautions that while the situation indeed looks bleak and could for some time, things might not be quite as bad as they seem from the media reports.
“A lot of the animals that have been portrayed in the media as being dead animals in the Gulf of Mexico are animals that have died either from natural causes or other means. A lot of these turtles they’ve been finding, for example, are from shrimpers who have been going nuts to find as many shrimp as they can before they close the shrimping harvest in the Gulf, and it’s shrimping that kills turtles more than anything else in the world, not oil. But they jump to the conclusion that the oil killed them. They talk about the dead dolphins washing up on the west coast of Florida. Well, they did necropsies on them, and found out that not a single one of them died from anything to do with the oil,” Clark said.
“Part of the issue for science-based organizations is to not let hysteria and emotion to cloud our objectivity and scientific training so that we can attribute to the problem things that are actually attributable to the problem. We have to be careful not to make everything that we see out there BP’s fault. They’re going to have plenty of blame to go around,” Clark said.