[Environmental biologist and expert on oil clean-up, Silvia] Gaus claims that 99% of the rescued and cleaned birds will die, usually within about seven days, and it will be a more painful death that takes longer than if they’d just been left alone. As a consequence, many recommend quick and painless euthanization. A National Geographic article complicates the story, reporting that survival rates depend on characteristics of the spill, but still reports that scientists largely have little hope that many birds rescued from the Gulf will survive. A better strategy for saving birds, they say, is trying to keep them out of the oil in the first place.Or maybe so.
[S]tudies indicate that many seabirds do survive the oiling and rehabilitation process successfully returning to their wild condition. And in some cases (when birds are located and observed in breeding colonies) have been shown to breed successfully for many years following their oiling, rehabilitation and release. These studies show that a bird’s survival is often based on how a specific species can cope with the stress of the entire process from oiling to rehabilitation, and that their overall survivorship across species is far greater than Sharp’s assertions. As survivorship may be correlated to individual species it is irresponsible to draw conclusions of survivability from one species to another, rather, in depth studies must be conducted for each species considered if we are to begin to answer this question with any measure of reliability.In other words, no one really knows. We've put our money on the birdwashers if only because of the starfish parable, which goes something like this:
A person was walking on the beach where thousands of starfish had been stranded by a high tide. The starfish were drying and dying, so the person started picking up survivors and tossing them back into the surf.So, while we know in our hearts that washing crude off the feathers of a few sea birds won't remedy the tragedy of Deepwater Horizon (or industrial civilization), we know in our hearts that it should be done all the same. It is a small chance for humans to act compassionately and with grace towards non-human species, to be kind and caring for wildlife after all the ills we've wrought against them.
Another person walking along the beach asked, "Why are you doing that? You can't save them all and it will hardly make a difference."
The person sent another starfish back into the ocean and said, "It made a big difference to that one."