Rescuers need volunteers to help save sea life from oil spill

SARASOTA — Sheets, paper towels, Dawn dish detergent, heating pads and outdoor electrical cords.

Wildlife response teams along Florida's Gulf Coast want it all and they want it fast, as they prepare for the birds and other sea life that are expected to arrive shortly from the Gulf oil spill area.

At Save Our Seabirds in Sarasota Tuesday, workers at the non-profit organization were collecting supplies, including small dog and cat plastic kennels in which to keep recuperating birds, said office Manager Eileen Devin.

"It's all coming in slowly but surely," she said. "Little bits here and there. "Mostly, we're getting Dawn, paper towels and sheets, but according to my boss . . . we need a lot more."

Not only does Save Our Seabirds need supplies, it also needs help.

As of Tuesday, its limited staff was being stretched to the breaking point as workers prepared for a potential influx of injured wildlife.

"We have nine workers, so if people want to volunteer, we can use help at the sanctuary with feeding and cleaning," Devin said.

"We have a trailer packed and ready. We're waiting for word on where to go," Devin said.

Gail Straight of Wildlife Inc. Education & Rehabilitation Center on Bradenton Beach, expressed caution about handling oiled birds.

"It's not like you can just pick up birds and start washing them," said Straight, a liaison with TriState Bird Rescue and Research, of Newark, Del., which BP has contacted to coordinate the oiled wildlife response. "That oil is hazardous. Every bird that comes in has to be logged in, so people should not touch those birds. People can call me about volunteering and we'll take their information and if and when we need volunteers, we'll let them know.

"Right now we're just waiting," Straight said. "We're hoping it just doesn't come to Florida, but it's not looking good."

The head of the American Bird Conservancy, a bird conservation group, said the toll from spill might be greater when factoring in the birds that will be affected out at sea.

"While the weather is restricting rescue efforts, I know that rescue groups are prepared to do everything humanly possible to capture and save as many oiled birds as they can find, but there are problems well beyond our abilities to mitigate or even count," said George Fenwick, the group's president. "In addition to the potential catastrophic losses to shorebirds that we know to be at risk on their breeding grounds and in the wetlands around the gulf, the oil spill poses a serious threat to seabirds."

(Alund and Mannix report for The Herald in Bradenton, Fla.)