NEW ORLEANS — The Coast Guard says nearly 1,300 gallons of oil spilled from an oil production facility into southwest Louisiana wetlands near the areas where young endangered whooping cranes are released into the wild
None of Louisiana’s cranes is currently near the spill, said Sara Zimorski, a Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries who studies and oversees the 70 cranes in Louisiana’s population. Young cranes often move 20 to 60 miles a day, but the closest to the spill are a dozen released late last year in Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge.
She said biologists are gradually putting out less food for the cranes, but “because the habitat’s so good, they tend to hang around the wetlands around the release pens.”
A floating barrier was set up to keep the spill out of adjacent waterways just east of White Lake and cleanup began Tuesday, the day the oil spilled from Peak Operating Co.’s production facility there, the Coast Guard said.
The spill’s cause remained under investigation Wednesday, Petty Officer Lexie Preston said. She said the Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit based in Morgan City will be at the site Thursday to check on the cleanup.
Peak, based in Lafayette and reached by phone, had no comment Wednesday.
The spill is about 5½ miles (7 kilometers) southeast of the nearest edge of the White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area, where 11 young cranes were brought Nov. 9 for gradual release, and about 12 miles (19 kilometers) from the Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge, where another dozen whooping cranes were brought Nov. 14.
Those releases brought the number of whooping cranes in Louisiana to 72, but two have since died.
Rockefeller covers about 71,000 acres (28,700 hectares) along the Louisiana coast, and the White Lake conservation area covers about 72,000 acres (29,000 hecatares) north of White Lake.
Whooping cranes now number about 600 altogether. They’re all descendants of 16 birds in a flock that migrates between Texas and Canada. That flock now numbers about 275, with another 100 or so in a flock trained to migrate between Wisconsin and Florida.
Zimorski said biologists will be keeping an eye on the youngest birds’ electronic trackers to make sure they continue well away from the spill.
However, she said, “I don’t think it will be anything to worry about for any of the cranes.”