15 April 2011

Wash, rinse, dry and repeat for next penguin on Tristan da Cunha

Bath time! A rockhopper penguin
gets washed.
Photo by Tertius Gous/SANCCOB
TRISTAN DA CUNHA - The evening of Saturday 9 April provided a rewarding moment for Tristan's rehab manager Dereck Rogers as the first five northern rockhopper penguins to be washed at the newly erected wash-bay facility were drying off under infrared lights.

Mr Rogers, who has been closely involved with the care of the penguins from the moment the first oiled birds were brought back to Tristan more than two weeks ago, was elated at being able to hold a cleanly washed penguin.

The whole island worked together to ensure the expert staff from SANCCOB had everything they needed to erect the wash-bay facility, post-wash pens and pools. The island plumbers, electricians and carpenters were all on standby to assist with the operation, as well as plant operators for moving equipment and materials. The three large hot water geysers brought by the SANCCOB team have been installed in the wash-bay to heat the water for washing, as have hundreds of metres of piping and cable to link in to the island’s water and electrical supplies.

On Monday 11 April the washing of oiled penguins got well under way as the first islander washing team received training from SANCCOB's Venessa Strauss and Jennie Bancroft. Washing a penguin is a thirty-minute process involving a de-greaser mist, a warm bath of biodegradable soap and anti-septic solution, and a rinse with a high-pressure showerhead. The cleaned penguins are then tagged and put in a recovery pen under infrared lamps to keep them warm while they dry off. They are later moved to small clean pens which have access to a swimming pool, where there are encouraged to swim.

Sixty-four penguins were washed on Monday but SANCCOB’s vet, Tertius Gous, said they were aiming to wash up to a hundred a day once the washing team are in full swing.

Meanwhile, at the holding pens, the feeding teams are hard at work trying to satisfy the hunger of the many oiled penguins waiting to be washed. Penguins at the village swimming pool and in the outside pens are being fed pilchards to build up their strength before undergoing the washing process.

Some of the more lightly oiled penguins at the swimming pool are being "swum" every day, after which their waterproofing is tested. When these penguins satisfy the release criteria of effective waterproofing and sufficient weight, they will be released.

To date 3662 penguins have been admitted to the centre, of which 1577 have died. The first 69 to be washed will hopefully be able to join the 24 penguins released so far.

On Tuesday 12 April more help for the penguins arrived aboard the Russian research/Antarctic supply vessel Ivan Papanin - the fourth vessel chartered by the owners of the MS Oliva and their insurers since the incident. The Ivan Papanin carried the SANCCOB supplies and oil abatement equipment that were not able to be collected prior to the departure of the Svitzer Singapore. Aboard the Ivan Papanin is also a Bell-212 helicopter, which will greatly improve the deployment of the oil abatement teams and equipment into the oiled gulleys and bays on Alex (or Middle) Island, the focus of the clean-up efforts.

Currently there are 28 international responders on the island, including the SANCCOB team, veterinarians, International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation (ITOPF) staff, and oil pollution and salvage response experts. They are working alongside an 80-strong island volunteer force. 

The onset of the southern winter has brought with it gale force winds and rough seas. The adverse weather, while hampering the clean-up response, has broken up the majority of the released oil, although there are still clear signs of pollution around Nightingale. Fortunately the penguins have completed their moult, and the vast majority have left their colonies and gone to sea. They will not return to Tristan until the start of the next breeding season in August.

Read related posts

Wash and dry for rockhoppers at rehab centre, RSPB, 11 April 2011, BirdLife International
Oliva Tristan Diary, Tristan da Cunha Association: accessed 15 April 2011

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