PAWS Magazine

Issue 40, Winter 1999

Seabirds find refuge and recovery at PAWS Wildlife Center

“I’ve been told that when I take vacation time, I should either go out of town, or leave my phone off the hook,” jokes PAWS Wildlife Center Volunteer Coordinator Kevin Mack. “I guess I should have listened.”

Mack had to shorten his vacation last November after PAWS received an emergency call from Olympic Wildlife Center south of Olympia. Olympic Wildlife Center had rescued over 100 starving seabirds that had washed up on the beach at Ocean Shores. High winds had led to choppy waters, which prevented the seabirds from catching fish.

Olympic Wildlife Center personnel transported more than 125 emaciated seabirds to the PAWS Wildlife Center. The birds were mostly Western grebes, with some loons, scoters, auklets, and two brown pelicans.

Extensive local media coverage encouraged dozens of first-time volunteers to help out with the birds. Mack organized two training sessions to teach the volunteers some of the basics of seabird care. Regular Wildlife Center volunteers worked additional shifts as well. “Some volunteers worked up to 12 hours a day,” says Mack. Because the emaciated birds were too weak to eat solid food, volunteers had to tube feed them individually. Each bird needed to be fed from four to seven times a day. Volunteers also were responsible for preparing food slurries, and for cleaning holding pens and pools.

“We had to buy an additional six pools,” says Mack. “And the Alderwood Water District generously came out and hooked up a hydrant for us, essentially giving us a whole new water supply.” Each pool had to have at least a moderate water flow to ensure that contaminants were removed so that the birds maintained their waterproofing.

Each of the birds had to stay in water during their time at PAWS. In nature, seabirds do not come out of water and even build floating nests. If they are left on a solid surface for any period of time, they tend to get pressure sores from the weight of their bodies, and they lose their waterproofing.

Mack wasn’t the only staffer called in to perform extra duty. Seasonal staffer Jen Szucs was hired temporarily to help supervise feedings, and Ken Brewer and Bruce Adkins were hired to oversee the cleaning and maintenance of the pools.

Because of the hard work of the Wildlife Center staff and volunteers, more than 70 of the seabirds were ultimately rehabilitated and released throughout December.

Staff members are relieved that the complicated effort is behind them. “It was much like [dealing with] an oil spill, without the oil.” says Jeanne Wasserman, Director of the Wildlife Center.

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