Thursday, August 5, 2010 11:01pm CDT


66 degrees   Clear   Calm


[I want to thank all of you for letting us know about the Tall Ships in Duluth!!  I think it was Tess that first mentioned them being in Cleveland....excuse me if it was someone else who first mentioned it.  That was the first that I had heard that they were there and were coming to Duluth.  So on the spur of the moment we went to Duluth to see them and spent the last several days there.

AND....we were actually able to sail on the Roseway as it led the ships out to the start line and started the next leg of the race.  It was awesome.  And the crew on the Roseway are really a great bunch of people doing great work with kids.  I saw the Roseway leave port early this morning and it was almost like watching family leaving.

So THANK YOU to all of you for letting us know about the Tall Ships!!

They are tentatively scheduled to be back in Duluth in 2013 so maybe all of you should plan on coming to Duluth for it!]

I had promised you some time ago to say a little more about the oil spill in the Gulf but have held off since there is so much that is unknown.  And probably will be unknown for some time.

I will probably make everyone mad since I am at neither extreme....I am somewhere in the middle.  There are those on either side who are trying to use this to their own advantage.  Some would have you believe that this is no big deal.  And others would have you believe that this is Armageddon and that we should never pump another drop of oil anywhere.  In my humble opinion, both are absolutely wrong.  The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.  I do have a science background but I certainly claim no expertise or great insight into this problem.

I have read some reports that 80% of our waterfowl, including loons, will die this winter and never return.  I think that is a huge overstatement.  Or at least I hope that it is.  But we will not really know until this fall and winter.  And there is absolutely nothing we can do to prevent them from migrating down there.  Someone said to me 'can't we just capture most of the loons and hold them here this winter'?

First of all, it would be impractical and impossible to capture a significant number of loons.  And secondly, even if we could capture a number of them, we would be sentencing them to a certain death because loons do not do well in captivity at all.  We have talked about that before.

They become easily stressed in captivity.  When they are under stress, they develop a condition called aspergillossis.  A fungus called aspergillus just explodes in the lungs of loons (and a few other birds) when they are under stress in captivity.  And it is almost always fatal.  So even if it were possible to do something like that, it would be totally counterproductive.

Let us just hope that the cleanup continues.  We still have 2 or 3 months before the migrating loons get down to the Gulf.  So a lot can still be done.  It is just unfortunate that so much was allowed to make it to shore where it is doing the most damage.  However, for our loons, they will not spend much time either on shore or along the shore.  So that is the good news.

However, the big unknown is how they will react to whatever oil is still in the water.

One of the little known facts is that most birds that are 'rescued' and washed with soap ultimately still die in spite of all the well-intentioned efforts.

Now, we have gone from the news reports being that it is an unmitigated disaster that can't be reversed to "we don't know where the oil went".

Once again, I think the truth is somewhere in the middle.  Neither as bad as they have been saying for the last several months nor as good as they seem to be saying now.

The reports the last few days are that 33% of the oil was recovered or disposed of but that the other 66-75% simply 'disappeared'.  I'm sorry, it did not 'simply disappear'.  Something happened to it and it is important for the future to more fully understand what that 'something' was.

I personally believe the earth and the oceans are much more capable of dealing with things that we give them credit for.  There are all kinds of microbes and little 'beasties' that actually love to eat oil.  After all, oil is simply another form of hydrocarbons like the hydrocarbons in your compost pile that microbes explode in and love to eat.  There is oil seeping from the bottom of the ocean all the time all around the world.  We just never see it and these little creatures take care of it.  Now I am not saying that the 'seepage' is the same magnitude in a concentrated area as this spill...but the earth is constantly seeping oil.  Totally apart from what man ever does.  The big unknown is how the earth deals with a large concentrated spill like this.

So the news that they are having trouble 'finding' the oil is very encouraging.  Much of it may have already been taken care of naturally.   But in my mind the jury is still way out on this yet.

This would also fit with something that I mentioned sometime back.  You will remember that everyone was very concerned about what would happen if a hurricane hit this area and stirred up the water and the oil.  I told you about hearing one of the chief meteorologists for The Weather Channel say that this could possibly even be a "good thing".  His feeling was that a hurricane would act like a giant mixmaster and break the oil up into smaller pieces that the microbes could digest more easily.

Let us hope that we have some VERY HAPPY microbes in the Gulf right now eating at the best buffet that they have ever had!

Also encouraging is that government inspectors have said that they are not seeing any of the oil show up in the Gulf seafood that they have examined.  Let us hope that continues since loons are almost exclusively fish and seafood eaters.

If that is true, that would be a huge plus for our loons when they come down to the Gulf this fall.  If there is no oil contamination showing up in the sea food, that is a very positive thing for our loons.

The other danger for the loons is if they get oil on their feathers.  That will destroy their insulation and waterproofing.  So those are probably the two biggest threats to loons.

The other unknown is how it has already affected the 3 years of immature loons who are still on the Gulf right now from previous hatches.  They are the ones who have faced the greatest threat so far.

But so far there is no firm data.  There is one report that I read a couple weeks ago that 17 dead loons have washed up on shore.  But there was no data that any of them were killed from the oil.  Apparently most of them were 'natural deaths'.  Once again, I am not saying that none of them have been killed by the oil.  We just need to be careful in our numbers.

One thing that you need to be cautious of is some of the reports that you will read over the next couple months.  There have been some reports that over 60,000 birds and animals have been killed from the oil spill.  At this point, I don't think that anyone knows the true number.

But the US Fish and Wildlife Service is trying to document every dead bird or animal from the Gulf Coast and every live animal that has evidence of oil.  So far that TOTAL in both categories is less than 5,000.  And of those, the majority of the dead birds and animals have not had any evidence of oil contamination.

So from the confirmed results so far, I am cautiously optimistic on several levels for our loons!

But that is one of the reasons for the research project that the USGS is doing.  From the satellite transmitters that we implanted and the data recorders, hopefully we will be able to get a more complete picture of the migration this fall and a better picture of what happens to the loons on the Gulf this winter.  The good part is that the loons in New England and eastern and western Canada should not be affected at all as they migrate to the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

But for now, we can only wait and hope and watch and learn.