Veterinarian puts experience to work helping waterfowl

FUKUI — While oil from a ruptured Russian tanker continues to wreak havoc along much of the picturesque Sea of Japan coastline here and in adjoining prefectures, emergency crews are tending to the growing number of victims with oil-soaked feathers.Kunitoshi Baba, 48, is one of the veteran veterinarians pitching in to help the endangered wildlife. Baba, who treated more than 1,500 birds in the Persian Gulf in the aftermath of the Gulf War in 1991, was dispatched to the area by both the Japan Veterinary Society and another group working to rescue wild animals. “Even a small splash of oil is enough to kill them,” Baba said about birds who are left untreated. “The extent of oil (coverage) does not really matter.”Baba, assigned to the recovery effort since Jan. 7, said he has helped local veterinarians and other governmental and nongovernmental officials treat birds mainly in Fukui and Ishikawa prefectures. “Every day, about 20 birds have been rushed to treatment centers here and in Ishikawa Prefecture,” he said, predicting that hundreds more seabirds will be brought in for treatment in the next few weeks.He said more birds are likely to come near the shores due to the recent wave of unusually calm weather. Once on the birds’ feathers, the gooey oil starts affecting vital functions, Baba said. For example, he said, oil can make it difficult for birds to maintain the normal body temperature of 41 degrees. In about 10 days, this causes the birds to die. Other primary causes of death for tainted birds are starvation and dehydration as they become paralyzed and cannot feed themselves, he added.At a veterinary center in Fukui, where Baba spends most of the day, more than 20 birds have been brought in for treatment from all over the prefecture. As soon as the birds are brought in, Baba and his coworkers try to thoroughly rinse the oil from their feathers with the help of neutralizing detergents and brushes. But the birds must be strong enough to endure treatments often lasting more than an hour.On Jan. 14, 16 birds were rehabilitated and released from a center in Tomakomai, Hokkaido. They had been brought to the center in the hope that after release they would not return to the polluted ocean in the Hokuriku and northern Kansai regions, Baba said.