Wildlife rehabilitators are decontaminating dozens of alligators, brushing their pointy teeth and scrubbing their scaly hides in the weeks after a diesel fuel spill in a New Orleans area wetland.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has cleaned diesel from 33 alligators
Wildlife rehabilitators cleaned the alligators’ teeth with dish detergent
More than 100 animals were found dead in the spill
A pipeline ruptured outside the New Orleans suburb of Chalmette on December 27, dumping more than one million litres of diesel into the area.
Since the spill, 78 alligators have been rescued, and 33 of them have so far been cleaned and released into a national wildlife refuge in New Orleans, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries said.
The department’s oil spill coordinator, Laura Carver, said cleaning a two-metre alligator required eight people: four holders, two scrubbers, one person to rinse the gator and one to change the water.
Ms Carver said the impact of December’s diesel spill on wildlife was relatively high compared to most spills in Louisiana.
Alligator babies rescued
Rehabilitating that many alligators at once “is a new one for us”, Ms Carver said.
She said a hard piece of wood “almost like a really old-fashioned mop handle” is used to hold the alligator’s jaw open while its teeth are scrubbed.
The teeth cleaning comes toward the end of a series of body washes using gradually smaller concentrations of Dawn dish detergent to clean off the gunk.
“But it’s the only thing that works.”
The alligators released in Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge include 11 babies less than 46 centimetres long.
Gators have to wait for their cleaning until all polluted food has made it through their digestive systems, Ms Carver said.
Though the babies, all found near each other, shared a kiddie pool, each of the others has its own kiddie pool within a plywood enclosure.
“We’ve found that cyclone fencing really doesn’t work because the larger gators really like to climb,” Ms Carver said.
Birds, fish, snakes and frogs killed
Ms Carver said the department euthanised three alligators more than 2m long, that were in deep diesel and “in rough shape”.
She said nearly all of the spill went into two artificial ponds, killing about 2,300 fish.
Most were minnows and bait fish, along with some shad, gar, sunfish and small bass.
More than 100 other animals were found dead, including snakes, birds and frogs.
Although 23 live birds were found, only three survived the combination of diesel and cold weather, Ms Carver said.
Two have been released and a third is still being treated.
Birds and smaller reptiles get their mouths swabbed out, often as they’re captured or when they’re brought in, Carver said.
State investigation into spill
The operator, Collins Pipeline, had known about corrosion on the outside of the pipe at the site of the spill since an October 2020 inspection, according to federal records.
However, it delayed repairs after a second inspection showed the corrosion was not bad enough to need immediate attention.
At the time of the spill the company was awaiting permits for the work and planned to start it later this month, the records show.
The Gulf Coast is in constant danger of spills from corroded oil and gas pipelines, said Dustin Renaud, spokesman for the environmental nonprofit Healthy Gulf.
“It’s time we take a systematic approach to reviewing the vulnerability of our oil and gas infrastructure, and start the process of repairing and removing these rust buckets,” he said.
“Once the investigation is complete, the department’s enforcement division may be asked whether any environmental regulations were broken,” he said.
Langley said the Louisiana Oil Spill Coordinator’s Office is leading the state investigation.
The office did not immediately return a call for comment.