(ANIMAL WELFARE/BIRDS) TEXAS — Yet another oil spill occurred in Galveston, Texas on Saturday. U.S. Coast Guard officials said as much as 168,000 gallons of oil might have spilled, immediately blocking the Houston Ship Channel.

Birds at a nearby wildlife sanctuary are in significant danger. Conservation director for the Houston Audubon Society Richard Gibbons said he received reports and photographs of oiled birds at the Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary as few as hours after the spill.

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An oil containment boom cuts across a sandbar covered with birds on Pelican Island near Galveston, Texas. Photo Credit: Houston Chronicle

At least 50 oiled birds have been discovered so far.

Many different species of birds have flown into the sanctuary over the last couple of days, including ruddy turnstones, laughing gulls, American white pelicans, and some shore birds.

“There could be hundreds or thousands of birds of various species in the area affected by the spill. Oiled birds are being taken to triage trailers with hot water and basic facilities to begin cleaning the birds, staged near the spill area,” Tom Harvey, a spokesman for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, told the Los Angeles Times.

The Bolivar Peninsula, which lies east of the collision, has not been directly impacted by the oil so far. Winds and currents have pushed much of the oil south toward Pelican Island, where the oil is coating rocks along the shoreline and significantly threatening many shorebirds.

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A flock of black skimmers fly over Bolivar Peninsula. Photo Credit: Amar and Isabelle Guillen

When oil sticks to a birds’ feathers it causes them to mat and separate, impairing waterproofing and exposing sensitive areas to harsh conditions. Instinctively, the bird tries to get the oil off their feathers by preening, which results in the animal ingesting the oil and causing severe damage to their internal organs.

In many cases, the birds become so concerned with preening that they forego feeding and suffer from starvation, dehydration, and anemia.

Many oil-soaked birds lose their buoyancy and beach themselves in their attempt to escape the cold water. This often makes them more vulnerable to predators.

“Identify sensitive areas along the coast and in near shore waters and this gives us enough information that we know which areas to respond to first and with the great protective measures,” Director of the National Spill Control School Tony Wood said.

“What were trying to do is not only actually capture the oil but to protect the shorelines where the habitat exists for birds, for fish and even fresh water marshes as well,” he continued.

The spill comes almost exactly 25 years after the massive Exxon oil spill in Valdez, Alaska, which involved a whopping 10 million gallons of oil and took a devastating toll on wildlife.

The last major spill in the Gulf of Mexico was the Deepwater Horizon, or BP oil spill, which dumped 210 million gallons four years ago.

— Kayla Newcomer, exclusive to Global Animal