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Beached Seabirds Oiled From Natural Seep off Santa Barbara Coast

The birds, mostly common murre, have been spotted in Malibu and other coastal cities in Los Angeles County.

Dozens of oiled seabirds are being found in Malibu and other coastal cities beached and coated with crude oil and tar due to natural seep off the Santa Barbara coast.

The San Pedro-based International Bird Rescue's Los Angeles center has received 77 oiled birds -- mostly common murres -- since the beginning of this month, according to Karen Benzel for the International Bird Rescue.

At least a dozen of the common murre, which look like penguins, have been spotted in Malibu. Common murres are seabirds that spend eight or nine months of each year continuously at sea. The birds found in Malibu have been rescued by the California Wildlife Center.

The birds, which nest on high cliffs and spend most of their lives on the open water, have been affected along with Western Grebes and Loons, which "have been found emaciated and suffering from hypothermia on beaches from Malibu to Newport Beach,'' Benzel said.

"Since this isn't an official oil spill, there isn't an organized effort to capture these birds,'' IBR Executive Director Jay Holcomb said. "They are found by the public one at a time and brought to our center for care. We estimate there are more birds out there that are not being picked up.''

Benzel said the oiled birds are affected by natural seepage rather than a human-caused oil spill, so the high cost of rehabilitating the animals falls largely on the IBR and other area wildlife groups.

"Our staff and volunteers are in the midst of an oil spill with many birds needing daily care at our center,'' Holcomb said. "Little attention is paid to these natural events because there is no responsible party, such as an oil company, to pay the costs. The responsible party in this case is Mother Nature, and she does not come with a credit card.''

Natural oil seepage occurs in several places along the Southern California coast, including Coal Oil Point in the Santa Barbara Channel, the world's largest natural seep emitting thousands of gallons of oil daily, according to the IBR, which has been helping seabirds and other aquatic birds around the world since 1971.

The group urged the public to call (866) WILD-911 for help after spotting an oiled bird in distress and in need of rescue. Malibu resident are encouraged to call the California Wildlife Center at 310-458-9453.

Tom Bates February 18, 2013 at 08:24 PM
Normal oil seepage has existed for several million years. It is a common occurance on the coast of California. Cabrillo Beach, Ventura Beaches, Santa Barbaraa Beaches and up to and beyond Carmel. A seepage is a break in the earths structure that allows little bubbles of oil to rise to the surface. No big deal period. People who love birds and other animals sometimes get a little whackiy about this. NOT TO WORRY! Have a Nice Day!
Hans Laetz February 19, 2013 at 02:03 AM
Tom, old buddy, the impact of humans on birds has vastly reduced their natural population. Their natural habitats have been obliterated. Only a small percentage of the original population remains. People who love birds are rightfully worried about that small remainder. The impact of 77 dead oily birds could be absorbed by the environment decades ago. Today, not so much. There were those in industry who scoffed at the banning of DDT back in the 70s, they said there was no link to the absence of pelicans and other big birds. There's lots remaining to worry about. And lots to be happy about! A flock of pelicans paced us on PCH at Broome Beach today, going 60 mph. I remember when California pelicans were very rare sights. P.S. I miss riding around in your 'Vette. You're the best!

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