In early November 2007, a severe storm caused many ships to ground in the Strait of Kerch, between Ukraine and Russia. One of these was the Volganeft-139, a river oil tanker that lost over 4,000 tonnes of heavy oil. At the request of local responders, Sea Alarm sent a small team to assess the situation and the International Fund for Animal Welfare also sent two representatives.
On site, it emerged that the rehabilitation of the oiled birds would have to take place in a relatively remote area where basic facilities (a combination of shelter, heating, electricity and water) were impossible to find within reasonable distance. On the basis of their assessments, both teams advised that euthanasia of the captured animals (over a hundred coots) was the most appropriate treatment. This message was however difficult to accept by the local responders, who preferred to try to do their best under the given circumstances. Their attempt to clean and rehabilitate the animals was unsuccessful and the majority of the birds died in their care. The six survivors were transferred to a regional zoo, and their eventual fate is unknown.
This event is an illustration that a well-intended but inappropriately resourced wildlife response in a remote area should not be encouraged. It also demonstrates that experts who carry out an assessment sometimes cannot offer anything better than unpopular advice, albeit based on experience and internationally agreed standards of good practice. This incident demonstrates that a wildlife response needs rational decision making at all times and a well organised management system that is able to deal with something as hard as mass euthanasia, if it is in the best interest of the welfare of the animals.