California oil spill wildlife rescuers fear for animal safety

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For those fighting to rescue wildlife and sensitive wetlands from the Orange County oil spill, they know there is much they cannot see.

At least 19 oiled birds have been recovered, officials said. Two of them — an American coot and a western gull — have died.

Four snowy plovers, a federally threatened bird species, have been found covered in oil in Huntington Beach, officials said.

On Wednesday morning, Lorraine Aguilar stared at the gray-green waves just north of Bolsa Chica State Beach with tears in her eyes.

She was worried about the pod of dolphins she had just seen and whether they would eat fish from the contaminated water. She surfs there several times a week. The parking lot, usually crowded with fellow surfers, was empty.

“It doesn’t have to be like this,” Aguilar said. “I hope it’s a wake-up call for all of us as we get progressively louder and louder messages from the Earth.”

Elsewhere on the beach, a team of four people from the Coast Guard and other agencies slowly paced the sand, taking notes and snapping pictures.

They were looking for tar balls and hadn’t yet seen any, one man said.

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But the absence of visible contamination was little comfort to Aguilar, a former chemical engineer.

“It’s all the stuff we can’t see that scares me,” she said. “This will have impacts for years to come as it works through the food chain.”

Under gloomy skies at Talbert Marsh, the workers used grimy rakes to search for oil stuck against walls and rocks. Pelicans perched nearby, and a trash bin was filled with plastic bags of recovered oil.

John Villa, executive director of Huntington Beach Wetlands Conservancy, said the crews had successfully cleansed oil from the water.

The main focus now, he said, is the rocks lining the 25-acre restored wetlands.

The rain that moved through the region Monday wasn’t a problem, but the upcoming winds are a concern because they could push oil against the rocks. The workers will scrub them with dish detergent, biodegradable materials and steam.

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