Nova Scotians rally to help grease-covered gulls

·4 min read
Angie Kerr spotted the grease-covered seagulls while visiting the Short Beach area with her husband. (Angie Kerr - image credit)
Angie Kerr spotted the grease-covered seagulls while visiting the Short Beach area with her husband. (Angie Kerr - image credit)

What started out as a drive to enjoy nature turned into a rescue mission for one Tusket woman.

On Thursday, Angie Kerr and her husband took one of their usual drives to the area around Short Beach, Yarmouth County.

Kerr said her husband is from that area so it's a popular destination.

While they were at Little Lake, near a fish plant, Kerr said she happened to look down and saw two seagulls in distress.

"They were very sick, so then we started to kind of look around the entire lake and realized there [were] many birds in the same condition," she said.

Kerr said the birds appeared to be covered with some kind of oil. She assumed it might have come from a fishing vessel or a spill nearby.

It didn't take long for Kerr to spring into action. Within minutes, while still observing the birds, she was on the phone to the Department of Lands and Forestry trying to get help.

Kerr said she hates to see animals suffer.
Kerr said she hates to see animals suffer.(Angie Kerr)

She also went on Facebook and posted photos of the birds along with an explanation of what she had seen.

"I made the post on Facebook kind of trying to see if anybody out there knew of any other ways that we could help," she said.

Kerr said she didn't have a contact at Hope for Wildlife, the wildlife rehabilitation organization based in Seaforth, N.S., but hoped a Facebook friend might.

Shortly after, Kerr said she heard back from Lands and Forestry. They said that they had sent someone to investigate and that the Environment Department had been notified.

Responding to an inquiry from CBC News, Barbara MacLean from Environment and Climate Change said Lands and Forestry had visited the area on Thursday and were joined by her department on Friday.

She said it was determined the incident was not an oil spill but the result of the gulls getting into a truck filled with waste animal tissue. The waste had been delivered to a rendering facility nearby.

MacLean said the rendering plant didn't commit any violation and it was determined there was no further risk to the seagulls.

Hope Swinimer, the founder of Hope for Wildlife, said her organization received a call after someone saw Kerr's post on the Nova Scotia Bird Society Facebook page.

Hope Swinimer, founder of Hope for Wildlife, says the rescued birds should be released in about a month
Hope Swinimer, founder of Hope for Wildlife, says the rescued birds should be released in about a month(CBC)

Swinimer said Dr. Kathleen MacAulay, a veterinarian from the area who is an expert on medical care for birds, was already aware of the incident and was examining the birds at the site.

Volunteers have since delivered seven of the birds to Hope for Wildlife.

"Some of them have facial lacerations, some have spinal trauma, but all of them have some degree of fat or oil on their feathers," Swinimer said. "Some are really greasy and others not so much."

She said removing oil from birds isn't easy and the birds will be allowed to stabilize before they are washed. The good news, she said, is that the oil isn't toxic.

Birds likely to be released after a month

She said birds get covered in oil from restaurants far more often than they do in oil spills at sea. But in 25 years of operation, she said it is the first time Hope for Wildlife has received birds from a rendering factory.

"What happens is water can get in and they will get soggy so they won't be able to fly," she said.

"They won't be able to escape their predators. They won't be able to find a food supply. But worst of all, they'll freeze to death on the really cold days."

Swinimer said the seven birds in her care will likely be released back into the wild in a month, but 15 other seagulls died as a result of the oil.

Kerr said she's happy she got the ball rolling to rescue some of the birds. She said she loves animals and hates to see them suffer.

"I'm just glad we could all rally around and get this problem kind of solved to an extent and hopefully it won't happen again. "

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