PAWS: 'These little guys have made it'

PAWS: 'These little guys have made it' »Play Video
PAWS volunteers release a group of seabirds back into the wild on Sunday two weeks after they were rescued from a toxic algae bloom that threatened to kill them.
EDMONDS, Wash. - It was a day for the birds along the waterfront in Edmonds - and that's a good thing.

The first flock of seabirds sickened by toxic algae on the coast were released back into the wild.

For the past two weeks, the birds have been repeatedly soaked in fresh water, hand-washed and detoxified at the PAWS Wildlife Center. But it hasn't exactly been a spa vacation for the birds.

The mysterious, soapy algae along the coast has killed thousands of seabirds and damaged the waterproofing of tens of thousands of others. They couldn't fly or swim correctly.

After rehab, water beading on their feathers showed they were well on their way to recovery - and a signal it's time to head back into the wild.

On Sunday, a group of common murres were carried to the Edmonds waterfront in boxes, and volunteers helped the birds start a new life.

"Get the box open, tilt it, they're going to jump right out ..." shouted Kevin Mack, a PAWS naturalist, as the birds were released.

Then the murres tasted freedom - and the openness of Puget Sound.

For those who donated their time to get the sick birds floating and flying again, it was a fulfilling moment.

"To know the tragedy of the seabirds that happened, to see these little guys have made it, it's like go, be happy, have a great life. It's just so thrilling," says Jeani Goodrich, a PAWS volunteer.

"It's good to see their will to live," says Jill Hein, another volunteer. "They wanted to get better. They go through a lot of stress when they're in captivity like that - tubes down their throat, getting handled, getting washed."

Along with the rehab and release of these seabirds, comes research and trying to figure out exactly why this toxic algae has taken such a toll.

"This may be considered a natural event," Mack says, but adds, "Humans have an impact on every facet of the environment right now. Considering this is an unusual algae bloom, there's no knowing what effect we have had or what contribution we've made to this."

Wildlife officials say many of these birds will eventually find their way back to the coast. But it's expected by the time they get there, the toxic algae bloom will have blossomed out.

PAWS Wildlife Center says it spent more than $30,000 helping the birds. The organization says it relies on donations to keep most of its operations running.