SEA WORLD LENDS A HAND…TREASURE OIL SPILL
On the 23 June 2000, tragedy struck when a fully laden bulk ore carrier, the MV Treasure, sank just off Cape Town. The fuel oil that leaked into the sea threatened 41 000 penguins close by in their rookeries off Dassen Island and Robben Island. A huge rescue mission was launched to remove oiled birds and relocate 20 000 non-oiled birds to prevent their contamination. With the removal of the adults, many chicks were left unattended in their nests. Rudy van der Elst, casually walked into Ann Kunz’ office one day and asked her if Sea World could handle five hundred rescued penguin chicks. Ann sprang into action and by the next day it was decided to accommodate the chicks at SAAMBR’s boathouse at Vetch’s Pier. Fencing, food, porta pools, sprinkler systems, water pumps and hospital care facilities were donated by generous supporters and once again Durbanites rallied to the cause. Volunteers and veterinary help poured in and in no time at all – penguin chicks started to arrive in batches by air from Cape Town, usually the last flight of the day! With SAAMBR’s track record and experience in raising penguin chicks and the rehabilitation of stranded birds, SAAMBR’s help was much appreciated by the Department of Marine and Coastal Management. The task of dealing with the chicks as they arrived was co-ordinated and each bird was numbered and given a thorough veterinary examination. A large number of the birds were infected with fleas and several were severely dehydrated. Each bird was tagged and weighed and immediately rehydrated. Medical records were kept for each bird and the birds were categorised for husbandry purposes. This also involved the training of the volunteers to cope with and meet the husbandry standards required by Sea World. The penguins were divided into six groups according to the care that they needed. Although extensive use was made of volunteers, the Sea World staff undertook most of the bird handling to facilitate feeding and minimise stress. Two students were employed to handle the data capturing for a record of each bird and this served to alert the staff to the special needs or deterioration of a particular bird. Some 250 kilograms of sardines were consumed each day by these chicks and the Sea World staff and volunteers forfeited much free time over the weeks and weekends that it took for the chicks to fledge. And while they may look soft and cuddly, penguin beaks are serious weapons as many careless helping hands can attest! Hygiene control was stringent and all equipment had to be thoroughly washed and disinfected every day. It was a busy time indeed – and with the help of Addington Hospital and generous donations from the public it was most encouraging indeed to see how the people of Durban opened their hearts to these orphaned chicks. A generous donation by the Green Trust allowed Sea World to cope with all the additional costs. The rescue effort further enhanced Sea World’s ability to deal with the rescue and rehabilitation of penguins in the long term with a view to rehabilitation and breeding in order to return birds to the wild. Slowly but surely, the chicks were returned in batches to Cape Town for release. Who will ever forget the images of the volunteers with cardboard boxes, releasing the rehabilitated birds with pink spots on their chests as they waddled back into the sea?