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Aussie team’s ingenious solution to track down mystery oil slick

by nytime
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An ingenious plan has been hatched to locate the source of a mystery oil spill in Western Australia after a high-tech approach failed.

It’s believed the leak occurred somewhere near Penguin Island in Perth’s south. After oil-covered pelicans were reported in May, authorities flew drones in a 20km radius around the island. When that failed to find the oil source they issued a plea for public help in July.

By early August, 48 pelicans had been rescued and most had survived. As rescuers began releasing them back into the wild, they pitched a novel idea to help find the leak.

GPS data is being collected from around Pelican Island where the oil slick is suspected to have begun. The red dots indicate where the pelicans are. Source: Google Earth/DataSOI/NOAA/USNavy/WASR

Rescuers turn to pelicans to help find leak source

The pelicans are likely the only ones who know where the leak is coming from — they clearly ventured close to it when they became soaked in the oil.

Rachel Olsen from Western Australia Seabird Rescue explained to Yahoo News Australia what her team decided to do next. “With some of them we’re attaching GPS trackers, hoping they’ll lead us back to the place where they’ve been contaminated,” she said.

Left - a team of people attaching a GPS to a pelican. They are wearing facial shields. Right - a group of pelicans after they were released.

Pelicans were fitted with GPS trackers and then released at a south Perth beach. Source: WASR

Why catching pelicans is exhausting

Rachel has personally caught dozens of oiled pelicans while paddling the area in her canoe. They’re then taken to expert carers at WA Wildlife for washing and medical observation.

Pelicans are not easy birds to catch, and being covered in oil makes them even tougher to grip. “It’s quite exhausting and I’m running out of steam, so this week I’ve been focusing on tracking their GPS data,” she said.

Video of the pelicans being released back into the wild can be seen below.

WASR is a charity and the cost of feeding the pelicans at $500 a week and buying GPS trackers is a struggle. If you’d like to contribute to its donation drive more information can be found here.

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