On Tuesday, the National Zoo's bird curator stood on the grounds of the zoo's tranquil bird house grounds holding a stuffed toy penquin. It would have been comical -- the penquin had a goofy look on its face -- but Dan Boritt wasn't smiling.
With a sponge, toothbrush and a bottle of Dawn dishwashing liquid, Boritt was demonstrating the painstaking, hours-long effort it takes to clean birds or other animals soaked in crude oil. He said the detail work is "very much akin to restoring artwork," except the artwork isn't wild, trying to scratch or bite you, or trying to get away.
Although most animals have a naturally occurring oily skin or feathers, the crude oil suffocates the skin and kills plant life or small fish other animals depend on.
It turns out that Dawn is the preferred formula of chemicals and water that works best with the oil-cleaning operation. You may have seen Dawn commercials promoting its work and donations for the past 20 years.
Forty zoo staffers have been trained in the cleaning protocols. They're standing by to go to the Gulf if either the federal government or BP oil company asks for reenforcements. There have been telphone conversations, but no call to duty yet.
"It's a big undertaking," Boritt said.