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Gulf oil spill: Notes from the front line

A brown pelican coated in oil flaps its wings while standing on Raccoon Island, a barrier island in Terrebonne Parish, La. {thanks, AP}

John Gill, a fishery biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Maryland Fishery Resources Office in Annapolis, spent a month in Venice, La., doing beach bird surveys, collecting dead animals and capturing oiled birds, while Mike Slattery, a Baltimore resident who works for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, is keeping a close eye on managing the recovered oil.

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Here are a few facts they learned:

•••• When dead animals are found, biologists take the carcasses to a mortuary, where the Fish and Wildlife Service's law enforcement officer documents the chain of custody of the carcass from the time it was found to its ultimate arrival at a forensic laboratory. The lab will perform a necropsy to come up with a natural resource damage assessment.

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•••• Local fishermen have been instrumental in leading biologists to oiled birds. These birds are then put in travel cages designed for pets and sent by smaller boats to Louisiana towns, such as Venice or Empire, where volunteers meet the transport boats. The live animals are then sent to Ft. Jackson, home of the rehab center.

•••• When birds and other animals wash up on a beach, environmental professionals can do a pretty good assessment of the damage. But it's far more difficult to see what is going on with the marine life under the water. Mary Medland, special to b

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