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Dispatch From Louisiana: One Bird Covered in Oil, Many Cameras

Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research staff hydrate a Northern Gannet bird that was covered in oil from the BP Deepwater Horizon platform disaster off the coast of Louisiana; Photo by AFP/Getty

Correspondent Tom Bearden is reporting from Louisiana on the impact of the Gulf Coast oil spill and filed this dispatch for the Rundown.

Three dozen cameras, 50 reporters and one oil-soaked bird.

An organization called Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research has set up shop in an unused Plaquemines Parish utility building near the Fort Jackson, La., historic site.

Their mission is to gently clean any birds that become coated with oil from the steadily growing oil slick from the BP Deepwater Horizon accident. The spill is threatening their breeding grounds on the barrier islands just off the Louisiana coast.

Reporters and photographers were invited to a news conference at 1:00 p.m. local time Saturday. Dozens gathered well before the event, clustering around the chain link fence, subjected to a steadily blowing dust cloud, sweating in the 85 degree heat and humidity.

Once inside, they jockeyed for positions while various spokespeople described the procedure for removing toxic oil from birds that can die if they’re handled too much.

Then they revealed the star of the show: the single bird that has been rescued so far — a northern gannet. Reporters were solemnly informed that oil-soaked birds will be given doses of Pepto-Bismol to settle their stomachs and will be washed with Dawn dishwashing liquid. They said it was the most effective product they’d tried. (They also said Proctor and Gamble has donated the soap for the effort.)

More than a dozen video cameras whirred and even more still cameras clicked, capturing images of the distressed animal. The pictures appeared online and on local television screens within hours, and they’ll likely be repeated in newspapers around the world on Sunday.

A few reporters exchanged sheepish glances and wry smiles at the classic media circus taking place in the sweltering metal building. More than a few photographers sweated through their clothing in their exertions to get the best shots.

A few minutes later the would-be bird rescuers donned heavy plastic protective suits, complete with gloves that went up the their armpits, and demonstrated the cleaning procedure before the eager photographers … using a duck decoy for the demonstration.

Even though some may have found the scene excessive, there is serious business behind all of this. If the booms that line the east side of the bird sanctuaries can’t keep the oil away from the land, that duck decoy in the sink might well be replaced by thousands of birds and other wildlife fighting for their lives.

Tom Bearden will have a new report on the oil spill on Monday’s NewsHour.

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