After major oil spills, hundreds to thousands of live stranded birds enter rehabilitative care. To target aspects of rehabilitative efforts for improvement and to evaluate which initial physical examination and biomedical parameters most effectively predict survival to release, medical records were examined from 913 Common Murres (Uria aalge; COMUs) oiled during the November 2001–January 2003 oil spill associated with the sunken S.S. Jacob Luckenbach off San Francisco, California, US. Results showed that 52% of all deaths occurred during the first 2 days of treatment. Birds stranding closest to the wreck had greater amounts of oil on their bodies than birds stranding farther away. More heavily oiled birds were in better clinical condition than birds with lesser amounts of oil, as shown by higher body mass (BM), packed cell volumes (PCV), total plasma protein (TP), and higher survival proportions. Additionally, BM, PCV, TP, and body temperature were positively correlated. For comparison, medical records from all nonoiled COMUs admitted for rehabilitation at the same facility during 2007–09 (n=468) were examined, and these variables were also found to be positively correlated. Oiled birds with BM under 750 g had approximately 5% lower PCV than BM-matched nonoiled COMUs. More heavily oiled COMUs may be in better condition than less oiled birds because heavily oiled birds must beach themselves immediately to avoid drowning and hypothermia, whereas lightly oiled birds may postpone beaching until exhausted due to extreme body catabolism. The strong relationship of PCV to BM regardless of oiling provides evidence that anemia commonly encountered in oiled seabirds may be a sequela to overall loss of body condition rather than solely due to toxic effects of oiling. Clinical information garnered in this study provides guidance for triage decisions during oil spills.
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Vol. 52 • No. 3