This paper reports on the anesthesia and liver biopsy techniques used in adult and nestling pigeon guillemots (Cepphus columba) to test for continued exposure to residual crude oil in the marine environment. Populations of pigeon guillemots have declined significantly in Prince William Sound, Alaska, USA, possibly because of residual effects of crude oil in the environment after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in March 1989. Measurement of hepatic cytochrome P450 1A (CYP1A) is currently the best way to assess crude oil exposure from food sources; however, lethal sampling to obtain adequate liver tissue was not desirable in this declining population of birds. As part of a larger study to identify factors limiting the recovery of pigeon guillemots and other seabird populations, we surgically collected liver samples from adult and nestling guillemots to provide samples for measurement of hepatic CYP1A concentrations. Results from the larger study were reported elsewhere. Liver samples were taken from 26 nestling (1998) and 24 adult (1999) guillemots from a previously oiled site (Naked Island; 12 chicks, 13 adults) and from a nonoiled site (Jackpot Island/Icy Bay; 14 chicks, 11 adults). The birds were anesthetized with isoflurane. No surgical complications occurred with any of the birds and all adult and nestling birds survived after surgery to the point of release or return to the nest. Thirteen out of 14 chicks from the Jackpot Island/Icy Bay and 8 out of 12 chicks from Naked Island fledged. Four chicks at Naked Island were depredated before fledging. All adults abandoned their nests after surgery, so the study sites were revisited the following summer (2000) in an attempt to assess overwinter survival of the adults. All but 1 adult biopsied bird at the nonoiled site (Icy Bay) was found renesting, whereas only 2 birds at the previously oiled site (Naked Island) were similarly observed. The percent of 1999 breeders at Naked Island that returned to their nest sites to breed again in 2000 was low at nests of biopsied birds and nonbiopsied birds alike, suggesting that factors other than the surgical procedure were responsible for the low return rate among this group. These survival results provide strong support lot using experienced veterinarians for nonlethal invasive sample collection from birds to document exposure to crude oil in the marine environment.
Additional publication details
Anesthesia and liver biopsy techniques for pigeon guillemots (Cepphus columba) suspected of exposure to crude oil in marine environments