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The Story of Louisiana’s Oiled Brown Pelican

I live very close to Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans and often take walks by the shore where I can watch the sunset.

One of my favorite sights while I’m out there are these two majestic brown pelicans that soar up and down the shore in search for food.

Brown pelicans, the state bird of Louisiana, reached dangerously low levels into the 1970s until the harmful pesticide DDT was banned and their numbers made a rebound.

As a lover of birds and brown pelicans, I was saddened by the iconic image of that poor pelican stuck in the thick crude oil from last summer’s BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Now, a new documentary, premiering tomorrow on HBO, is telling the story of a single pelican’s journey through the rehabilitation process last summer.

Although I haven’t seen ‘Saving Pelican 895’ yet, audiences have been praising the film, which won the coveted best documentary award at the 2011 Vail Film Festival. The HBO documentary follows a brown pelican simply known as pelican 895. As I explained in the post on the Decorah eagles, there’s an understanding that you never give birds cutesy names so you don’t get too attached.

What makes this film so impressive is that it sheds light on just how much attention is given to a single bird during the rehabilitation process. More than 7,000 birds died as a direct result of the oil spill and thousands more were treated.

In an interview that you can watch below, the filmmaker made it clear that her intentions going into the documentary were clear. She would simply follow the lone bird whether it died or was successfully rehabilitated. The results of the project, critics say, were rousing.

Hopefully this gives some additional insight into the struggles they’re still facing and provides motivation for people, especially BP, to continue the effort to save these beautiful birds.


Timothy Martinez Jr. is a writer and freelance journalist. His work has been published in The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Remapping Debate in New York City and other publications. He’s been a bird lover since he was young and currently lives in New Orleans, L.A.


  1. […] the BP oil spill in 2010, the infamous image of the Brown Pelican trapped in oil came to represent what was going on in Louisiana. Hurricanes, including Katrina, have taken a toll […]

  2. […] seen the pelicans, stared into those great, golden, unblinking eyes, sighed, and agreed that it’s awful. […]

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