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Think few reported oiled seabirds is good news? Not so fast, says MUN biologist




The first dead oiled seabird has been found after Husky Energy’s SeaRose FPSO spilled an estimated 250,000 litres of crude into the Grand Banks region of Newfoundland’s waters, and a Memorial University biologist is bracing for more — possibly 100,000 more.

The province’s offshore regulator reported Wednesday that 14 live oiled birds have been found, and four of them have been taken for cleaning at a rehabilitation centre set up by Husky in St. John’s.

But it’s misleading to think simply washing the birds can save them, says Ian Jones, a seabird ecologist at MUN.

« It’s more of a public relations thing, » he said. « As soon as you get an oiled bird on camera being washed, everybody’s happy. »

Jones, a professor at Memorial University, says although it’s heartbreaking to see the birds suffer, efforts shouldn’t be focused on cleaning up individual animals. (Gary Locke/CBC)

And though the numbers of birds found so far may seem low, Jones says even a few sightings right now could indicate catastrophic mortality.

« My guess is it means there’s a horrendous number of dead birds out there. »

They’ll die an agonizing death, even if they get exposed to a tiny amount of oil.– Ian Jones

Sea conditions since the spill have been extremely rough, hampering everything from cleanup efforts to a full damage assessment by remotely operated vehicles.

The chance of spotting birds in the towering waves, Jones said, is extremely low.

« Imagine being on a roller-coaster in a blizzard and then trying to make a bird count, » he said. « I’m amazed they’ve seen any oiled birds. »

As many as 100,000 seabirds, primarily murres and dovekies, risk hypothermia and poisoning in the wake of the spill, biologists have said. CBC News has requested access to Husky’s bird rehabilitation centre, but a spokesperson for the company said only medical personnel may be admitted while birds stabilize.

Frothy oil mixture can be deadly

Those rough sea conditions have also whipped the oil into a frothy mix that could be even more lethal for the birds, Jones said.

« It’s getting pulverized into an emulsion like and oil and vinegar salad dressing, » Jones said.

According to Jones, just one drop of the petroleum mixture can cause a dovekie to die of hypothermia in a matter of days, separating the watertight coat and allowing cold water to penetrate to the birds’ skin.

A teaspoon could kill a murre, he said.

Sometimes the damage isn’t visible, as the coat may look untouched, he said.

« But there might be a bird inside horribly suffering. »

The regulator and the federal environment ministry said Wednesday that no oil sheens were spotted in the Grand Banks area during recent observation flights.

« One of the big questions that’s emerging is where is the oil? » he said.

Since the oil spilled from a flowline near the bottom of the sea, large quantities of it may still be migrating up to the surface, he said.

The water temperature, weather and density of the oil will all affect how quickly that happens, he said.

‘At death’s door’

Jones said during the province’s last major spill in 2004, responders would capture and wash the birds’ coats to the point of being « squeaky clean » — only for their feathered wards to die just hours later.

Oiled birds like this one were found washed ashore after the Terra Nova spill in 2004. (CBC)

At the point of recovery, seabirds are already weak, stressed and poisoned, Jones explained.

« They’re at death’s door, and just washing the oil off them isn’t going to do anything, » he said.

Seabird populations are distinctly more fragile than other bird populations, he said. Murres, for example, wait until they’re much older to breed, and they lay just one egg at a time.

« They just can’t handle mortality, » he said. « A loss of 10,000 or 100,000 seabirds is huge damage to a seabird population. »

All creatures at risk

While seabirds bear the brunt of ecological risk, other marine species are also susceptible to poisoning.

Whales, dolphins, fish, krill and plankton — practically all links of the food chain — could be killed through contact with toxic oil particles, Jones said.

Biologists say an estimated tens of thousands of seabirds died after the 2004 Terra Nova spill. (CBC)

« Any amount of crude oil suddenly released into the cold ocean is very damaging, » he said.

When animals ingest those particles, it ruins their internal organs, he added.

« So they’ll die an agonizing death, even if they get exposed to a tiny amount of oil. »

With files from Carolyn Stokes

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


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‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal




MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow




Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise




Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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