Because of the ongoing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, there has been a lot of discussion about washing oiled wildlife. There is also a frequently aired commercial for Dawn dishwashing detergent that touts the product’s effectiveness for cleaning oiled wildlife. It’s accurate. Dawn is commonly used for washing oiled animals, but the commercial is lacking this crucial disclaimer: “Folks, please don’t try this at home.”
Washing oiled wildlife, especially birds, is as much about technique as it is about the product. For example, PAWS recently received a Sooty Shearwater who had been found oiled. The bird was washed with Dawn prior to being brought to PAWS. He was oil-free, but the soap hadn’t been properly rinsed away. This meant that the bird still got soaked to the skin when placed in water because the soap residue disrupted his waterproofing. The shearwater was re-washed and properly rinsed at PAWS and is now on the road to recovery (see video below).
Caring for oiled wildlife is a very involved process. An animal’s health must first be assessed to determine whether or not he or she is medically strong enough to undergo the stressful washing process. The water must be a specific temperature and hardness, the proper concentration of Dawn must be used, the animal must be washed thoroughly and rinsed in a specific manner. Lastly, the animal is thoroughly dried in a specially designed pen with a warm air dryer set at specific temperatures.
As you can see, it is not as simple as you might think. You must have the proper knowledge, experience and legal permits. The best thing you can do is get oiled wildlife to a licensed wildlife care professional immediately so treatment can begin as quickly as possible. Whatever you do, folks, please don’t try this at home.
In the video: PAWS Wildlife Rehabilitation Manager Dondi Byrne and PAWS Wildlife Naturalist Kevin Mack rewash an oiled Sooty Shearwater that was improperly washed with dish soap after being oiled.