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Fryer oil encounter slicks gulls

Treatment required gallons of dish soap, hundreds of pounds of fish, and two weeks' rest for the gulls to regain the strength to fly.

CUMMAQUID—Wildlife doctors in September scrambled to scrub and treat dozens of gulls that had feasted on a truckload of spent frying-oil.

About 150 of the scavengers were coated after they breached the truck when it stopped to unload in Grafton. Animal control officers notified the New England Wildlife Center, which operates hospitals in Cummaquid and Weymouth.

The Cape Wildlife Center took 43 of the surviving gulls into treatment, which required intensive bathing and a month of rehabilitation to regain the strength to fly. About half survived.

"It was a challenge to keep them all happy," said Zak Mertz, the center’s executive director. "It took a ton of staff and volunteer time to push them all the way through."

The process was akin to caring for birds covered in petroleum, a situation Mertz's staff had trained for earlier this year with help from a Department of Environmental Protection grant.

"I've definitely never seen anything like this where you have this number of birds affected in a single incident," Mertz said. "It's a really labor-intensive process; it takes an hour or more per gull. You're trying to cut the oil, strip it off the feathers. You really have to work it in because these guys were absolutely covered."

The center in October released 22 gulls in Plymouth.

If you encounter a wild animal in distress, contact the Cape Wildlife Center at 508-362-0111.

Patrick Flanary is a dad, journalist, and host of Morning Edition.