Others fed smelt to the emaciated Western grebes and common murres.
Staffers at the Progressive Animal Welfare Society used Dawn dish detergent to painstakingly clean feathers.
“We washed every single bird we had — every single bird,” wildlife director Jennifer Convy said.
The crew at PAWS has been scrubbing, feeding and caring for the seabirds, which were hit by a deadly algal bloom in the Pacific Ocean in late October.
Success from the rehabilitation efforts was evident Wednesday, as PAWS released six Western grebes back into the water along the Edmonds coast. The center originally took in about 125 birds, mostly grebes and murres.
The seabirds came into the care of PAWS in late October. Foam from an algal bloom along the Washington and Oregon coast slimed the birds, coating their feathers.
The birds were no longer able to lock their feathers together, and so could not create the airtight seal they needed to insulate themselves from the frigid Pacific Ocean.
The birds took to the shore, where volunteers gathered hundreds near Astoria, Ore. Thousands more may have died, according to the International Bird Rescue Research Center in California.
The coastal birds, about the size of large ducks, live most of their lives near the shore. They are poorly adapted to the land, with frail legs that cannot support their weight for long periods of time. Had the birds been left on the beach, they would have starved or died of hypothermia.
Some of the ailing birds were sent to California, others stayed in Oregon and about 125 came to PAWS in Lynnwood.
The death toll has risen since the birds arrived at PAWS. About 100 have died or been euthanized, with just 23 surviving their ordeal.
Convy said the 20 percent survival rate was to be expected. Some birds were too far gone, while others did not take to rehabilitation.
“I don't want to sound nonchalant about it, but we did pretty good,” Convy said.
The nonprofit center — basically a hospital for animals — has spent about $30,000 on its efforts. The cost covers veterinarian bills, food and other expenses.
That figure will continue to climb. The water bill for 10 rehabilitation pools has yet to arrive, for instance.
“That's going to be just enormous,” Convy said.
The staff considers it money well spent, of course. The center has released 17 birds total — 11 common murres were released Sunday, in addition to the six grebes Wednesday.
The last six birds could be freed next week. Then, finally, the staff will be able to breathe a sigh of relief.
“It's a wonderful experience,” Convy said, “but it's really just hard work.”
Andy Rathbun: 425-339-3455, email@example.com.
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