Action: Relocate birds following oil spills
A replicated study in South Africa found that a higher percentage of African penguins Spheniscus demersus that were relocated following an oil spill bred at their old colonies, compared to birds which were rehabilitated after being oiled, despite fewer relocated birds being seen at their home colony.
If an oil spill is definitely going to affect a large number of birds and there is sufficient warning, then it may be possible to temporarily relocate birds away from the danger. This avoids having to clean birds, which can be expensive, stressful and may not work (see ‘Clean birds following oil spills’). However, it is still likely to be expensive and carries the risk that birds will not be able to return to the original site. Alternatively, there is the possibility, with fast-flying species, that they will return before the clean-up operations are complete, thus becoming oiled anyway.
Supporting evidence from individual studies
A replicated trial following the Treasure oil spill in 2000 between Robben and Dassen Islands, Western Cape, South Africa (Wolfaardt & Nel 2003), found that 62% of 1,130 African penguins Spheniscus demersus that were moved 800 km east and released were recorded on Dassen Island, two years after the event, with 41% breeding. This compared with a higher number of rehabilitated (oiled, cleaned and released) birds being seen (75% of 2,744), but fewer breeding (17%). Relocated birds began arriving at Dassen Island 11 days after being released, with most arriving 18 days or so after relocation. In total, 19,500 birds were relocated. This study is also discussed in ‘Clean birds following oil spills’.
- Wolfaardt A.C. & Nel D.C. (2003) Breeding productivity and annual cycle of rehabilitated African penguins following oiling. Pages 18-24 in: D.C. Nel & P.A. Whittington (eds.) Rehabilitation of oiled African Penguins: a conservation success story. BirdLife South Africa and Avian Demography Unit, Cape Town.