"None of your alternatives are very good," said Inkley. "But it is preferable to take a slightly oiled pelican that is in otherwise good condition, clean it up and release it in Florida where it has some chance of helping the population rather than saying: 'No, it has no chance at all' and euthanising it."
SHOOT: I say try to save as many as can be saved. That may say more about us than the fate of these poor creatures.
The pelican, matted feathers gummed up with thick brown oil, stands mutely in the tin bathtub. One rescue worker, in blue plastic overalls and goggles, gets a firm grip on its beak, and another squirts on some soap and begins to scrub.
Pictures of pelicans struggling to get free from thick brown globs are the defining image of the oil spill. But while the cleaning of the birds exercises a powerful tug on the heartstrings, missions such as this have set off a ferocious debate among conservationists. Should the pelicans or other Gulf wildlife – endangered sea turtles, dolphins, sperm whales – be rescued, or would it be kinder to kill them?
To date, 1,282 seabirds have been taken from the oil, of which 725 were already dead. Forty have been cleaned and returned to the wild, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.
The figures are even bleaker for sea turtles: 324 of the 387 recovered were dead. Three have been returned to the wild. All 42 of the dolphins stranded by the spill died.