Pacific Swell | Southern California environment news and trends
Environment & Science

A change in flight paths causes slicked birds off Southern California's coast

The murres might know why they're getting slicked with oil this year.
The murres might know why they're getting slicked with oil this year.
Bill Bouton/Flickr

Oil-slicked birds have been turning up along California's coast over the past several weeks. And it's not because of a spill--they've been slicked by nature. That happens every year. But today in the Los Angeles Times, Tony Barboza connects the dots to suggest why this year more birds might have become coated, and it's not something different with natural seepage from beneath the ocean floor. Barboza reports that the migration pattern of the murres, the birds making their way into rehabilitation centers, may be changing: 

Scientists believe the murre population is growing and expanding south, putting the football-sized birds at greater risk of diving into waters slicked by Southern California's oil leaks, the most significant of which are found in the Santa Barbara Channel near Coal Oil Point, where thousands of gallons of oil seep into the ocean each day.

I've been to those seeps. A few years back we did a series about the anniversary of the Santa Barbara oil spill, and I learned about the connection some people who support more oil drilling make in their arguments. Namely, that oil spills are just like what nature does every day, which is seep oil from the surface of the earth below the sea. 

Scientists I talked to were really wary about getting into the middle of that fight, but they were eager to make themselves available to talk about their research in detail. And when they talked, they drew distinctions between catastrophic uncontrolled oil spills on the surface and fluctuating but constant seeping oil and gases. 

Maybe it's a sign of lowered political stakes around offshore drilling that oiled birds aren't bringing up the connection between natural and man-made oil spills. Or maybe the Macondo well/BP/Deepwater Horizon event has raised the level of awareness of these differences. But what I'm more curious about is: what made the birds change their migration pattern? 'Cause they're not responding to requests for interviews.