Sea Lion Rescued From Santa Barbara Oil Spill Dies At SeaWorld

LOS ANGELES, May 23 (Reuters) – A sea lion that became streaked with petroleum from an oil spill on California’s Santa Barbara coastline this week has died after being taken to SeaWorld in San Diego to be cleaned and treated, officials said on Saturday.

Up to 2,500 barrels (105,000 gallons) of crude petroleum gushed onto San Refugio State Beach and into the Pacific Ocean about 20 miles (32 km) west of Santa Barbara on Tuesday when an underground pipeline that runs along the coastal highway burst.

The spill left a number of birds and marine mammals streaked with petroleum.

The sea lion was found with petroleum on its coat and was shipped on Thursday to SeaWorld San Diego, a theme park with an oiled wildlife care center, to be cared for and cleaned.

The mammal was in critical condition when it arrived. A rescue team washed oil off its coat and hydrated it, but the sea lion died early on Saturday, SeaWorld said in a statement.

“It’s always very saddening to our rescue team when an animal doesn’t make it and often the situation is that the animal is past the point of being able to recover,” said SeaWorld spokesman Dave Koontz.

A necropsy is planned to determine the cause of death, according to SeaWorld.

So far, two dolphins without visible signs of petroleum exposure have been found dead, Settle said, as have five petroleum-streaked pelicans and 50 invertebrates.

Another surviving sea lion and an elephant seal were shipped to SeaWorld on Friday for recuperation, according to the park.

Separately, wildlife workers have managed to keep alive nine pelicans and one western grebe that were streaked with oil, said Ashley Settle, a spokeswoman for the joint-agency command for cleanup and recovery.

The full extent of the toll on wildlife has not been determined, and experts fear the oiled birds and marine mammals found to date may represent only the tip of a potential calamity.

Plains All American Pipeline LP, the owner of the oil pipeline that burst, must take numerous corrective measures, including an in-depth analysis of factors contributing to the spill and a plan to fix any flaws found before they can restart the line, U.S. safety officials said on Friday.

The spill was the largest to hit the ecologically sensitive shoreline northwest of Los Angeles since a massive 1969 blowout dumped up to 100,000 barrels into the Santa Barbara Channel. (Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis, editing by G Crosse)

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Pipeline That Leaked Oil Onto California Coast Didn’t Have Auto Shut-Off Valve

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The pipeline that leaked thousands of gallons of oil on the California coast was the only pipe of its kind in the county not required to have an automatic shut-off valve because of a court fight nearly three decades ago, a county official said.

The original owner of the pipeline skirted the Santa Barbara County requirement by successfully arguing in court in the late 1980s that it should be subject to federal oversight because the pipeline is part of an interstate network, said Kevin Drude, deputy director of the county’s Energy and Minerals Division. Auto shut-off valves are not required by federal regulators.

“It’s the only major pipeline that doesn’t have auto shut-off,” Drude said. “For us, it’s routine.”

Federal regulators are investigating the cause of Tuesday’s leak that spilled up to 105,000 gallons of crude oil from an underground pipe into a culvert and as much as 21,000 gallons into the ocean at Refugio State Beach. The spill killed untold numbers of fish, at least five pelicans and a sea lion. It also mired other wildlife, including an elephant seal, in the muck.

Plains All American Pipeline was still draining the pipe and trying to locate the leak Saturday. Federal regulators ordered the company to remove the damaged section and send it to a lab for tests on the metal, along with a series of other steps before it could resume pumping oil through the pipe to inland refineries.

Plains said the pipeline had one valve to shut it down if oil flowed in the opposite direction and three valves controlled by operators in its Midland, Texas, control room.

Plains defended its people approach to manually shutting down the system, saying it’s the standard across the country for liquid pipelines.

“It is much safer for operators who understand the operations of the pipeline to shut it down following a planned sequence of steps than for computer to automatically close a valve on oil that is traveling in confined space at high pressure,” Patrick Hodgins, the company’s senior director of safety, said Saturday. “This is all standard operating procedures within our industry.”

While it’s not known if an auto shut-off valve would have detected the leak and reduced the size of the spill, environmentalists have criticized the lack of such a device, saying it could have averted or minimized the disaster.

“Everyone is pretty mystified why the pipeline didn’t automatically shut down when the leak occurred,” said Linda Krop, chief counsel of the Environmental Defense Center.

Santa Barbara County regulations sometimes exceed state and federal standards, requiring additional environmental analysis or imposing conditions to further protect health and the environment, Drude said. One additional requirement is a valve that can detect changes consistent with a leak and automatically shut down.

The county successfully fought another operator that didn’t want to install automatic shutdown valves on a pipeline from an offshore drilling platform, Drude said.

However, when there was a leak on that line in 1997, an operator overrode the automatic shutdown, and it continued spewing crude into the Pacific Ocean a couple miles from shore. The 10,000 gallon spill fouled 21 miles of shoreline and killed more than 150 birds.

Richard Kuprewicz, president of Accufacts Inc., which investigates pipeline incidents, said such valves aren’t always effective, though newer, more sophisticated “smart” models provide more accurate signals that can trigger shutdowns.

A Plains employee discovered the leak early Tuesday afternoon, about three hours after mechanical issues with the pipeline, according to the company. The pipe was restarted for about 20 minutes before a pump failed and then it was shut down because of changes in pressure.

The company said it was looking into whether those earlier problems led to the leak.

A surge in pressure from starting up a system could cause a leak or exacerbate one, but it’s too soon to tell, Kuprewicz said.

“In the past, surge pressures have caused pipes to rupture. But there were other failures, too,” he said, speaking in general and not about the Plains incident. “If that were the case, that would become fairly evident … pretty quickly.”

Plains All American subsidiaries have reported at least 223 accidents along their lines and spilled a combined 864,300 gallons of hazardous liquids since 2006, according to federal records. The company has been subject to 25 enforcement actions by federal regulators and tallied damages topping $32 million.

The company has defended its record, saying accidental releases have decreased as its pipelines have increased to 17,800 miles.

___

Matthew Brown in Billings, Montana, contributed to this report.

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Rainbows Form Over Dublin As Ireland Votes To Legalize Gay Marriage

In a historic vote, Ireland passed a referendum to legalize gay marriage. As voters in the Irish capital of Dublin went to the polls on Friday, some noticed a fitting accompaniment from Mother Nature.

Official results showed that the referendum passed with 62 percent support, according to Reuters.

Ireland becomes the first country in the world to legalize gay marriage via popular vote.

H/T BuzzFeed

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Rescue Efforts Continue For Oil-Soaked Wildlife After California Spill (PHOTOS)

(Recasts with new tally of oiled birds and marine mammals)

By Steve Gorman and Alan Devall

LOS ANGELES, May 22 (Reuters) – The carcasses of five petroleum-soaked pelicans have been recovered from California’s Santa Barbara coastline, the first apparent sea bird fatalities stemming from the oil spill to be documented by officials overseeing the disaster response.

The tally was reported Friday by the joint-agency command for cleanup and recovery operations in Santa Barbara and Dr. Michael Ziccardi, a veterinarian from the University of California, Davis, who heads the Oiled Wildlife Care Network.

The body of a dolphin with no visible signs of oil also turned up on Friday in Santa Barbara Harbor, though a post-mortem exam must be conducted on the carcasses of the dolphin and birds to determine conclusively whether or not they were victims of the spill.

The harbor lies roughly 25 miles to the east of the origin of the spill at Refugio State Beach.

So far, a greater number of presumed oil spill casualties have been found alive – at least among sea birds and marine mammals – since the pipeline rupture on Tuesday that unleashed the spill.

Eight oil-stained pelicans have been rescued from the spill zone, along with two surviving sea lions and one elephant seal that were contaminated, Ziccardi and the joint command said.

Six pelicans were sent earlier in the week to a wildlife care center in Los Angeles, about 150 miles away, to be cleaned and nursed back to health, and the two others were on their way.

Each bird arrived coated from the tip of its beak and throat pouch to tail feathers and webbed feet in sticky, black grime, a condition that would ultimately prove lethal for the creatures.

Oil impairs the insulating properties of birds’ feathers, exposing them to cold and making it difficult for them to float, swim and fly. Chemicals in the crude petroleum also can burn their skin and irritate their eyes, and they end up ingesting the oil as they preen, damaging their digestive tracts.

Teams of wildlife experts garbed in protective suits and face gear spent hours methodically scrubbing and dousing the pelicans plumage and skin, holding fast to their elongated beaks as the birds wriggled and squinted in discomfort.

By the end of the process, the pelicans emerged looking miraculously restored.

Separately, one of the two petroleum-streaked sea lions rescued from the stricken area was shipped on Thursday to the SeaWorld theme park in San Diego for rehabilitation. Footage released on Friday showed the young marine mammal clean and slick after his bathing at SeaWorld.

The whereabouts of the second rescued sea lion and the captured elephant sea were not immediately known.

A network of volunteers and wildlife rescue workers were deployed to the Santa Barbara coast immediately after the spill, which dumped an estimated 1,700 to 2,500 barrels of oil onto the shoreline and into the ocean.

While the full extent of the toll on wildlife has yet to be determined, experts fear that the oiled birds and marine mammals found so far may be the tip of a potential calamity.

The spill was the largest to hit the ecologically sensitive shoreline northwest of Los Angeles since a massive 1969 blowout dumped up to 100,000 barrels into the Santa Barbara Channel.

That disaster, which dwarfs Tuesday’s accident, killed thousands of sea birds and other wildlife and helped spark the modern U.S. environmental movement. (Writing by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Robert Birsel and Michael Perry)

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U.S. Suffers Egg Shortage In Wake Of Avian Flu Outbreak

(Corrects French industry group name, shows it referred to Dutch interest, not farm ministry spokesman)

* Some food companies scout for egg supplies abroad

* About 30 pct of egg supply used by U.S. bakeries impacted

* Dutch, French companies seeking U.S. approval to export eggs

By P.J. Huffstutter and Bill Berkrot

CHICAGO/NEW YORK, May 22 (Reuters) – As a virulent avian influenza outbreak continues to spread across the Midwestern United States, some egg-dependent companies are contemplating drastic steps – importing eggs from overseas or looking to egg alternatives.

A spokeswoman for Archer Daniels Midland Co said that as egg supplies tighten and prices rise, the food processing and commodities company has received numerous inquiries from manufacturers about the plant-based egg substitutes it makes.

With a strong dollar bolstering the buying power of U.S. importers, some companies are scouting for egg supplies abroad.

“The U.S. has never imported any significant amount of eggs, because we’ve always been a very low-cost producer,” said Tom Elam of FarmEcon, an agricultural consulting company. “Now, that’s no longer the case.”

The United States is grappling with its biggest outbreak of bird flu on record, which has led to the culling of 40 million birds. The virus has been confirmed on commercial farms and backyard flocks in 16 U.S. states and in Canada.

The highly infectious virus has not crossed over to humans in the United States, as it did in Asia following a 2003 outbreak, but transmission to humans is possible, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

An industry group representing U.S. bakers began pushing the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Congress this week to speed up approvals for egg imports.

“We have members whose egg suppliers are already cutting back how much they’ll receive in the next few weeks, while others are not getting any,” said Cory Martin, vice president of government relations for the American Bakers Association. “They’re looking for eggs everywhere. And the problem is, too, there’s not enough egg substitute available right now to make up for the demand.”

Still, companies wanting to import eggs may have to look far afield.

“Canada is short on eggs and has been buying heavily from the U.S. for the last several years,” said Rick Brown, a senior vice president of Urner Barry, a commodity market analysis firm. “Mexico has been dealing with its own outbreaks of avian influenza, so they’re banned from importing into the U.S. The logical place people will be looking now would be Europe.”

Avril, a farmer-controlled agri-food group that owns France’s largest egg brand, Matines, said it has seen an increase recently in demand from the United States and elsewhere in the Americas and plans to start making shipments to the Americas in June.

A spokesman for Avril told Reuters on Friday most of its exports would be heading to Mexico, though he noted that shipments to the United States were a possibility.

ECONOMIC BITE

Exporting eggs into the United States from Europe will not be easy. Regulatory differences mean European Union egg producers must seek an individual license to export and sometimes change procedures to bring safety standards into line.

But it is still an attractive business opportunity.

The French embassy in Washington is helping one French egg company start the process to obtain an export certificate, a French farm ministry spokesman said.

The Dutch also are positioning themselves as an egg exporter to the United States too, French egg industry group SNIPO said.

“The bird flu epidemic developing in the U.S. means it is necessary to start discussions as quickly as possible to benefit from opportunities in this market,” SNIPO said in an emailed statement, adding that French authorities had not responded as swiftly as their Dutch counterparts.

PRICES SOAR

Meanwhile, companies sticking with egg suppliers closer to home are facing sharply higher prices as a result of the outbreak. Nearly 30 percent of U.S. breaker eggs – which includes liquid, dried or frozen eggs used by food manufacturers – has disappeared due to the outbreak, according to Martin and federal data.

The outbreak has led to a sharp uptick in the wholesale price of such eggs, from 63 cents a dozen in late April, when the first egg-laying flock was reported infected, to $1.83 a dozen this week, Brown said.

The wholesale price of “shell eggs,” typically sold in cartons at grocery stores, has also risen, from $1.19 a dozen in late April to $2.03 a dozen this week, Brown said.

Nevertheless, some food makers are turning to the more expensive shell eggs to supplement supplies, although that means an additional cost to send the eggs to a breaking facility that will crack the shells, Elam said.

Analysts at Goldman Sachs predict consumers will ultimately spend an additional $7.5 billion to $8 billion because of the egg supply squeeze.

Nestlé SA – which uses eggs for some of its Dreyer’s, Edy’s and Häagen-Dazs ice cream products – said it is braced for shortages and working with suppliers to help protect hens.

Dunkin’ Brands Group Inc told Reuters it will leave it up to franchisees to decide whether to swallow the cost hikes they’re seeing or pass them on to consumers.

A MATTER OF LIFE OR DEATH

For some companies, having an adequate supply of fertilized eggs can be a matter of life or death. Some vaccine makers, including Merck & Co Inc, maintain their own hen flocks to produce eggs used for incubating vaccines that protect against diseases such as measles and mumps.

Merck said it is taking no chances with its chicken flocks as avian influenza continues to spread – security is tight around the birds, and the health of the hens is continuously monitored.

Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccines division of Sanofi, said it too is keeping close tabs on the outbreak – particularly with the state agriculture department in Pennsylvania, home to some of its suppliers and the fourth-largest U.S. egg-laying flock. So far, no avian influenza cases have been identified there.

“We continue to maintain preventive measures for our egg supply system, including biosecurity and physical security procedures, to provide our suppliers with protection from being affected by this or any avian outbreak,” the company told Reuters in a statement.

And GlaxoSmithKline Plc told Reuters it is reinforcing biosafety standards at more than 30 Canadian egg-laying farms that are dedicated to producing eggs for the company’s human flu vaccines.

The company has more egg supplies than it needs for its flu vaccine production in Canada and Germany, a spokeswoman said.

But as the bird flu outbreak spreads in the United States, she added, “we are monitoring the current situation closely and have alerted all of our supply farms.” (Additional reporting by Karl Plume in Chicago, Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles, Anjali Athavaley in New York, Sybille de La Hamaide in Bazancourt, France, and Gus Trompiz in Paris Editing by Jo Winterbottom, Sue Horton and Matthew Lewis)

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Hawaii Neighborhood Rallies Together To Save Beloved Homeless Man

For decades, a homeless person affectionately nicknamed the Mango Man has been a fixture in the beachside neighborhood of Kailua, on the Hawaiian island of Oahu.

With waist-length dreadlocks, Mango Man — whose real name is John Cruz — is reliably seen around town with his walker (he was hit by a car a few years ago) or sleeping under mango trees (hence his nickname). He is said to be in his late 60s and to have served in the Vietnam War.

He doesn’t ask for money or help, but rather sits quietly and watchfully in the neighborhood, sort of like a living landmark.

Story continues below…
mango man profile

According to Daniela Stolfi-Tow, an administrator for the “I Love Kailua” Facebook page, seeing Cruz is an important part of coming to the neighborhood. “You go from the airport, come home, get yourself your favorite plate lunch, and then you go see Mango Man,” she told The Huffington Post. “You’re so relieved to see him.”

But in April, when a group of residents went to surprise Cruz with a new walker, they found him in need of immediate health care.

According to KITV-4, the residents sought help from Chad Koyanagi, a doctor at the Waikiki Health Center, who organized with the Honolulu Police and Fire Departments, as well as EMS and the residents, to retrieve Cruz and take him to a hospital for treatment.

Because of his condition, which residents wouldn’t disclose to protect Cruz’s privacy, Cruz was placed in intensive care and is expected to stay in the hospital for a while.

Stolfi-Tow said his presence is missed. “It feels like the energy was just sucked out of the place,” she said.

She and a few other community members installed a sign for Cruz near a bus stop. “It’s to say, ‘We’re holding your spot when you’re ready to come back,’” Stolfi-Tow said.

Why does the community love Cruz so much?

According to stories posted on the “I Love Kailua” community page on Facebook, many people experienced Cruz offering advice to those in need or protecting young people in Kailua.

Former Kailua resident DeeDee Gualdarama-Leong shared this story on the page:

“10th grade. I was talking to a friend and was not looking and [Cruz] grabbed me before a car came and banged the bus stop. Then 11th grade. Some grunts was harassing me, he told them to get the f*** away from his kids. 12th grade I was crying at the bus stop and he told me life is what u make out of it so think about it before u do bad, the Lord would not like that. I stopped crying and hugged him. I still go by that saying to this day.. thank u Lord for putting John in my life. I am truly blessed to call John my angel.”

In addition to a guardian angel, Stolfi-Tow has come to think of Cruz as a centurion for the community because of his military service and his tendency to wear fatigues.

After serving in Vietnam, she told HuffPost, “he took up another post here … He took his post and stood there day in and day out. He watched over everybody in his fatigues all day long. I realized that he was our guard. He watched over us.”

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From chicken to dinosaur: Scientists experimentally ‘reverse evolution’ of perching toe

A unique adaptation in the foot of birds is the presence of a thumb-like opposable toe, which allows them to grasp and perch.  However, in their dinosaur ancestors, this toe was small and non- opposable, and did not even touch the ground, resembling the dewclaws of dogs and cats. Remarkably, the embryonic development of birds provides a parallel of this evolutionary history: The toe starts out like their dinosaur ancestors, but then its base (the metatarsal) becomes twisted, making it opposable.

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