June 11, 2010
Inside a warehouse-turned-refugee encampment for animals soaked with oil, rescue teams wash acrid goo from the matted feathers of brown pelicans and other seabirds and try to nurse them to health.
Wildlife rescue organizations have carried out this mercy mission after many oil spills in recent decades, hoping to save as many creatures as possible. Of all the efforts by all the workers and volunteers responding now to the nation's worst offshore spill, the attempts to cleanse these animals and set them free tug hardest on the heartstrings.
Even if the results are up for debate.
Critics call bird-washing a wasteful exercise in feel-good futility that simply buys doomed creatures a bit more time. They say the money and man-hours would be better spent restoring wildlife habitat or saving endangered species.
A noble sentiment, said Ron Kendall, director of the Institute of Environmental and Human Health at Texas Tech University. But the hard reality is that many, if not most, oiled creatures probably won't live long after being cleansed and freed, he said.