Monday 24 May 2010

O a wondrous bird is the pelican...

The news from the Gulf of Mexico just gets worse and worse. It’s hideous, heart-breaking, depressing and disgusting. I would happily see BP broken and bankrupt after this – but only once they’ve used every cent they have to clean up the mess their greed and carelessness have caused. Not that all the money and hard work in the world could make it as if the disaster never happened – just look at how much oil still lurks under rocks and in the ecosystem of Prince William Sound, after 21 years.

For me it’s the pelicans that sum up the tragedy: their white feathers uniformly brown and tacky with oil, their wings glued to their bodies. A TV report at the weekend showed one being painstakingly cleaned while the voice-over stated, “so far four pelicans have been rescued” which would be laughable if it weren’t so sad. Just think how many birds are out there in the ocean, mired and struggling in the slick or floating lifeless underneath it; and dolphins, manatees, whales, fish… Not just coated in oil but full of it too, in their eyes, throats, noses, ears, stomachs.
I’m particularly fond of pelicans. We don’t have them here in NZ, but they’re found on every continent and I’ve seen them in Australia, the Galapagos Islands, in Peru, in California. They’re appealingly absurd-looking, like the bumble bees of the bird world: flight seems so unlikely for such ungainly birds, and they do look like lumbering Catalinas when they’re in the air, but it works for them - they’ve been around for 40 million years, apparently, which is success by anybody’s standards.
It’s true that “his bill can hold more than his belly can” as the rhyme has it: I saw one in the Ballestas Islands off the coast of Peru that briefly had both a fish and a smaller seabird in it. Not that the pelican was eating the other bird, it was just a case of avian mugging, and the aggrieved rightful owner emerged from the pouch minus the fish it had caught. It was a bit of an event, to judge by our guide’s excitement, and almost took my mind off the incredible stench from the metres-thick guano so generously supplied by the thousands of birds and sea-lions that make their home there, and have done for centuries. (The guano was so valuable in pre-artificial fertiliser days that pirates would raid the ships that came to collect it from the men who lived there for months every year to scrape it up - now there's a job not to have.)

Though it smells revolting, at least it's natural.


the queen said...

The BP pumps here in the US are very deserted.

TravelSkite said...

Good to hear. I normally boycott BP anyway because here they've always been the first to raise their petrol prices and the last to drop them - but I'm boycotting them doubly now.


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