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.