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Wildlife official: 4 oiled birds collected so far in OC spill, 1 euthanized

The cleanup organization is not seeking volunteers, but people interested in being trained as volunteers can do so at the Cal Spill Watch website.

HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. — The director of a state program charged with collecting and caring for wildlife injured by oil spills said Monday only four oiled birds have been gathered so far from this weekend's massive spill off the coast of Orange County, but he warned the numbers could still rise dramatically.

One of the birds collected since the spill occurred Saturday, a brown pelican, had "chronic injuries" and had to be euthanized, according to Michael Ziccardi, director of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network based at UC Davis.

"Right now with four live birds collected to date, it's much better than we had feared," Ziccardi said. "But typically spills of this nature, we're here for several weeks to months continuing to respond to animals and respond to calls for animals that may be out there. So it's really too early to tell, but we are cautiously optimistic."

Ziccardi said the organization has teams throughout the affected area, as well as reconnaissance teams to the north and south looking for birds that may be oiled but are still able to fly, making them more difficult to catch.

"We have been asked many, many times what can the public do what can people do if they want to help," he said. "First and foremost we need people to not try to catch oiled animals. It's not safe for the animals, it's not safe for them, because oil can be a toxic substance. We ask that they report those sightings immediately to our hotline."

That hotline is 877-823-6926.

He said the organization is not yet seeking volunteers from the public, but people interested in being trained as volunteers should they be needed can do so at the calspillwatch.dfg.ca.gov website.

"Oil spills are traumatic -- traumatic to the community, traumatic to us individually," he said. "They are accidents. Nobody wants spills to occur -- the operators, the public, the wildlife professionals. I'm a veterinarian, so my mandate is do no harm. So obviously the best spill is one that no animals are affected at all. But what we try to focus in on, if these accidents do occur, doing as much as we can to try to mitigate any damage that might be out there, both for the public as well as for the state and the agencies involved."

WATCH RELATED: Massive oil spill kills wildlife, closes beaches in Huntington and Newport Beach