Meet the Oil-Covered Pelicans, Symbols of the BP Oil Spill

By Joseph Calamia | June 7, 2010 4:44 pm

pelicansWe have learned of top caps, top kills, junk shots, and dome plans. We have seen President Obama “furious,” standing on the Louisiana shore. Last week, we saw pictures of the immediate victims of the BP oil spill, the Gulf marine life. Pictures that many believe will endure as symbols of the entire spill.

Adding to the impact, the brown pelican is Louisiana’s state bird, and was only recently removed from the endangered species list.

As a senior official of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, James Harris was too diplomatic to say if he thought the anger was justified, but, as a Louisiana native–from Pearl River, north of New Orleans, he pointed out forcefully why it was there, and how the first images of the oiled pelicans had intensified it. “I think it’s possible that they might come to symbolise the whole disaster,” he said. “For the people of Louisiana, the brown pelican is just as much a symbol of the state as the American eagle is for the nation as a whole, and to see the state emblem being threatened again and despoiled–people are very upset and angry about that.” [The Independent]

But these images, including now famous photographs by AP Photographer Charlie Riedel, affect those who have never set foot in Louisiana.

“They’re definitely everlasting at this point,” said Denis Paquin, the deputy director of photography at The Associated Press. “That is the power of still photos. This is the start of it, in a sense. They have become that iconic yet horrible vision of what people had expected to see…. You will remember a bird completely covered in oil,” Mr. Paquin said. “In the eyes, you can see there’s something wrong. And you can study it. The eyes always tell a story.” [New York Times]

Some argue that the images took so long to surface because BP wanted them hidden, orchestrating any official spill tours as to avoid such sights.

“There is a lot of coverup for BP. They specifically informed us that they don’t want these pictures of the dead animals. They know the ocean will wipe away most of the evidence. It’s important to me that people know the truth about what’s going on here,” [a BP contract worker] said.”The things I’ve seen: They just aren’t right. All the life out here is just full of oil. I’m going to show you what BP never showed the President.” [Daily News]

There are images of hope, such as this video of the most fortunate birds getting bathed before relocation to wildlife sanctuaries away from the spill. But some fear that even birds saved from danger will later attempt a return to their destroyed homes.

A BP spokesman denied any effort to conceal environmental damage, noting that BP has organized press tours to the spill zone. On Thursday, Times staff writer Tina Susman traveled with a group of three dozen wildlife rescuers operating from a houseboat 35 miles off Louisiana’s shore, as they searched for oil-slicked birds. “This has the potential to be a huge ecological disaster,” biologist Haven Barnhill told her. The search is brutally challenging: Temperatures soar into the 90s and the expanse covers tens of thousands of square miles of open water. Satellite images narrow the search field, but the effort still comes down to a biologist spotting a small, flailing victim through binoculars. [Los Angeles Times]

As of Friday morning, The Los Angeles Times reported 527 dead birds. Rescuers had brought in 85.

Recent posts on the Gulf oil spill:
80beats: This Hurricane Season Looks Rough, And What If One Hits the Oil Spill?
80beats: We Did the Math: BP Oil Spill Is Now Worse Than the Exxon Valdez
80beats: “Top Kill” Operation Is Under Way in Attempt to Stop Gulf Oil Leak
80beats: Scientists Say Gulf Spill Is Way Worse Than Estimated. How’d We Get It So Wrong?
80beats: 5 Offshore Oil Hotspots Beyond the Gulf That Could Boom—Or Go Boom

Image: flickr / IBRRC

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World
  • BillyHewitt

    The Gulf of Mexico is about to become a dead zone because BP & Obama
    are “BLIND TO PLUMES”. The 65 BILLION barrel well is fast leaking
    out the fractured sea floor 6 miles from the riser on TV. The oil Glob is
    coming East Coast so get your tar ball scoops ready. Is BP a terrorist?
    Should BP have all assets seized? Should BP corporate officers be sent
    to Guantanamo for daily waterboarding until they confess?

    Simmons says Government Should Take Over BP Oil Clean Up: Video Reference Bloomberg News

    Matt Simmons: “There’s another leak, much bigger, 5 to 6 miles away”,flv Dylan Ratigan show

  • Terry

    Pelicans Soaring and B.P. Oil

    watch the Pelicans outback ;

    everybody wants to go to Heaven, but nobody wants to go now…

    Thursday, June 3, 2010


    These photo’s should disgust everyone. my good friend the pelican is in dire straights again, along with other birds and wildlife, again, thanks to man. …TSS

    June 3, 2010

    Caught in the oil

    A short entry – AP Photographer Charlie Riedel just filed the following images of seabirds caught in the oil slick on a beach on Louisiana’s East Grand Terre Island. As BP engineers continue their efforts to cap the underwater flow of oil, landfall is becoming more frequent, and the effects more evident. (8 photos total)

    Wednesday, June 2, 2010


    Sunday, May 30, 2010


    Documents Show Early Worries About Safety of Rig


  • Monterey Seaside

    What ALL the parties in this tragedy have done is ignore basic safety regulations put into place during the Clinton years! BP, Transocean, Halliburton, the Cheney-Bush Oil Lobby and a spineless Obama have created a compete, unmitigated disaster. At this rate the entire 65 Billion barrels will leak into the Gulf! How could 65 Billion barrels of crude oil change wind and ocean currents, or alter the world’s fresh water supply? A $500,000 kill switch could have prevented this disaster yet Bush-Cheney plus Obama decided “Drill Drill” was best. Is it any wonder why the financial system continues to teeter on the brink of collapse? Simple Greed. This is why workers in the Gulf, miners in West Virginia and a generation of our best in Iraq have lost their lives: the Government has gone along with the Corporations and put Profits Above People and everything else! Tell Obama and anyone who will listen this must all stop NOW and it is time to stand up, in the streets if need be!

  • JJ

    Monterey, you have to take a look at the facts. Bashing oil drilling is just an ignorant partisan hack, the practice is very safe and necessary to our economic and energy needs. Spills of this magnitude occur far less than airline crashes for example. There’s evidence that BP ignored safety protocol by not maintaining the electronics that operate the blowout preventer, as well as others. Could that be the result of greed? Maybe, but that doesn’t make sense because faulty equipment will only cost them more money and the possibility of negative press in the long run. The more logical reason is negligence, possibly punishable by law as criminal negligence, but I doubt it will ever come to that. It will likely be another Toyota situation in which a political circus ensues on the hill, followed by a fine for not acting fast enough.

    It’s essentially the responsibility of the drilling entities and workers to ensure safety of the operation and employees, not the federal government. All the regulation in the world will not prevent such events from occurring again if people don’t take responsibility for themselves. Your notion that they ignored “safety regulations put into place during the Clinton years” is just further evidence that regulation is only as good as the people running the operation.

    The system is self regulating, nobody wants a situation like this on their record and BP is currently reaping the repercussions. Their stock has plummeted and there’s rumors that BP may not survive in the future without a merger (which is unlikely, who would merge with them at this point?), of course this is also pending the results of an investigation and the liabilities associated with this mess. However, at least we’re gaining value scientific knowledge and experience in dealing with a spill a mile below the sea. We should now be prepared for any future deep water catastrophes, making the operation that much safer.

  • Jeff

    As much as JJ is trying to make the result of this disaster justifiable, BP should feel the brunt of this disaster. Not only did this occur, but BP has failed miserably again and again to STOP much less FIX the problem. The leak is STILL hemorrhaging as we speak despite how media tries to glorfiy how much the cap has captured. I’m not even going to go into detail how much economic, environmental, and social damage this disaster has caused (Might as well set off a nuke in the gulf).

    Any company who bungled this badly to recover from a disaster should naturally fold.

  • JJ

    I never said it was justifiable, nobody wants a catastrophe like this on their hands and nobody would intentionally cause such destruction. They should pay out every last dime for the damage that has been done and the government should audit their operations. It’s my understanding that they’ve had a record of neglecting numerous safety procedures. I’m frustrated that they haven’t stopped the leak as well, but we haven’t had to deal with such a spill in such deep water, nobody was prepared for such an event. We’ve relied on technology too much (blowout preventer) and not given enough thought to failsafe measures, like a manual shut off value. I’m not sure why engineers wouldn’t install one.

    However, history has noted reasons to be optimistic. The Ixtoc oil spill of 1979 was as bad, if not worse, than the current spill (also in the Gulf), and the environment was able to rebound within 2 years, including the fishing industry. Furthermore, beaches were cleaned by hurricanes washing oil off shores and dispersing the remaining oil at sea.

  • Brian Too

    Poor birds. And these are probably the lucky ones; they are in a box so someone has caught them and they’ll get cleaned. If they survive they may get a crack at life in the wild again one day.

  • Ginger

    I hate BP.

  • Lane

    Does anybody realise that the oil (all the oil) keeps (or used to keep) the poisoness gases in place. *sigh* Do people also realise that BP are using poison to clean up the oil? How does that help exactly. (see RedIceRadio for more details)

    There is ‘clean energy’ but greedy giants are keeping it from the average person. We have to use oil because we have no alternative and they need to GET RICH. We have been ‘conditioned’ as consumers.

    Personally I’d rather see pic’s of BP Executives covered in oil and floating in the ocean. That’s not the answer but it would be less distressing. Everyone suffers because of GREED.

  • Lane

    In answer to JJ: Same old same old JJ. We need a solution not rhetoric. Of course BP are to blame and we shouldn’t be drilling for oil period! There is CLEAN ENERGY and we need to use it. We’re conditioned to live the way we do. Do we need an apocolypse so that we might wake up? The few that might survive at least. Do we need to go back to living in caves and start all over again? Are we all so very clever that we will destroy ourselves while we’re eating and drinking and being merry?

    Someone needs to go directly to JAIL for this crime. Directly to jail.

  • Lane

    Please read the facts on the p.s.i. in these wells. We don’t have the equipment to deal with this. Short of it blowing I don’t see how they can ‘stop’ it. (see RedIceRadio for more details)

    Read about the gas bubble that’s under the surface. What’s BP going to do about that: PRAY?

    It’s out of BP’s hands now. They can’t fix it. If you haven’t prayed for a while now would be a good time to start.

    We need to write to our pollies and DEMAND clean energy.


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