Wildlife Recovery Boat Safety Training

This past week Tim and I were in Bodega Bay (at Bodega Marine Lab) to teach a Boat Safety and On-Water Capture Techniques training.  We were lucky to have an additional instructor, James Fitzgerald, who is the UC Davis Boating Safety Officer, and is extremely knowledgeable.  These trainings are meant to provide Wildlife Recovery personnel with knowledge on how to be an active and helpful crew member if they ever find themselves deployed on a boat as part of oil spill response.  In addition, in this training there is a large emphasis on how to keep themselves, and others, safe – this includes knowing how to rescue someone that falls overboard.  The morning was a combination of lectures and hands-on activities covering the following topics: on-water capture techniques, weather, useful knots, communication and risk management.  In the late morning the students wriggled into wet suits and braved a cold pool to learn to do rescues, try on and float around with different PFDs (Personal Floatation Devices), and to learn how to rescue someone in the water with a throw rope and a life ring.  In the afternoon we did boat rotations to reinforce what was learned in the swimming pool, practice using a GPS (Global Positioning System) for navigation, and VHF radio for communication, and to learn a few techniques on how to capture birds with a dip net from a boat.  All in all, a fun day for all of us.  Thank you to Tim and James for helping to teach and to all the participants for their great enthusiasm!  I plan on having more of these trainings in 2015.  Hope to see you there!


Richard and Dani catching decoys.

Richard and Dani catching decoys.

Learning how to rescue someone that falls overboard.

Learning how to rescue someone that falls overboard.

The group, including Oscar, the rescue dummy.

The group, including Oscar, the rescue dummy.

Why I Work with Wildlife

At some point in time, almost all people that rescue wildlife are asked “Why do you do it?” Sometimes after a summer of long, hard days we also have to ask ourselves. While there are many reasons, I just want to share one of them with you.

My husband & I have been busy at work this summer, but the stars aligned so we were able to get a few days off at the same time to backpack the Lost Coast. Its a 24 mile stretch of northern California coast that was never developed since the terrain is so rugged that engineers decided to take Highway 1 inland rather than try to push through. Its been on our bucket list for some time.

It was the most physically demanding backpacking trip I’ve ever been on. Not the most in miles, but the terrain was really tough. Jumping from beach rock to beach rock on slanted surfaces for miles on end. Also, we had to keep a reasonable pace in order to make it through the sections that can’t be passed during high tides. The rocks ended up ripping the sole off one of my boots. Good thing Gorilla Tape is TOUGH! Even so, it was quite worth it, especially the southern section of the trail. Very pristine. Less people. More wildlife.

We woke up one morning to an otter family chirping at each other. A momma and two kits about 2/3 her size. Mom had already caught a 10″ long, thin fish. It took her about 20 minutes to eat it. During this time she was sitting on a rock outcropping on the beach. The ocean waves kept coming in and bowling over her kits. While she was eating she didn’t seem to care. However, once she had a full tummy, she became a fantastic Mom. She took the kits out into the ocean. First she caught a small fish that she gave to the smaller kit. The kit swam it in to shore and started feasting with rapt attention. In the meantime, Mom caught a crab and gave it to the other kit. Both kits were beyond belief adorable with cute otter faces and butts!

Once the kit on shore finished eating, he suddenly remembered that he wasn’t near his family, so he started chirping frantically. Mom answered and he started to swim to her, chirping the whole way until he was on top of a wave and could see her. Then he stopped chirping. However as the wave fell and he couldn’t see her he started to panic and chirp again. Once on top of the wave and in view again, he stopped chirping. He repeated this 3 times before he reached Mom. It was quite comical since he wasn’t in any danger. When he finally got near Mom, he immediately jumped on her back for a ride. Because he was so big, he almost drowned her. Once he calmed down, she kicked him off. We ended up watching them for about an hour!

So this is one reason that I work for the Oiled Wildlife Care Network: To work to preserve and raise awareness of the importance of pristine wilderness and the wildlife that depends on it. When I am exhausted from writing one more protocol, checking a training status in the database, or gavaging one more seabird, I think about what these animals would be doing if it weren’t for our communal dependence on fossil fuels. Then I resolve that I will do everything in my power to make sure if any animal is oiled that it has the best chance possible to return to its wild life.


Start of the Lost Coast Trail

Start of the Lost Coast Trail









Punta Gorda Lighthouse

Punta Gorda Lighthouse



View of Lost Coast

View of Lost Coast



Otter family

Otter family









Hiking on rocks!

Hiking on rocks!



Look what we found outside our tent...bear tracks!

Look what we found outside our tent…bear tracks!











End of the trail!

End of the trail!








More Webinars Coming Soon!

We are finishing up work on a trio of new webinars to add to our Special Topics library.  First up is a webinar on sea turtles covering some basics of their biology as well as some information on sea turtles during an oil spill response.  Our second new webinar will cover the fundamentals of gavaging birds, with sections on preparation, restraint, and troubleshooting.  The final new special topic webinar is titled “What is Normal?”, and goes over how to spot trouble during wildlife recovery.

Look for these webinars to be released in the next few months.  As always, registration information will be sent to the OWCN contacts at each Member Organization for distribution to the volunteers, and we will also make an announcement here once they are available.

Thank you to all our hard working volunteers for your ongoing interest in continuing education!


Raptors, Mylar Tape, and Boats to Protect Wildlife in Oroville

A few weeks ago, several OWCN staff spent a few days in sweltering heat in Oroville, CA to assist with an interesting project. This project came about because of an accident at the Oroville Dam in 2009 and resulted in the entrapment of hydraulic oil behind one of the valves. Because of the severe draught that California is experiencing, the Dept. of Water Resources had to open this valve, but were proactive in helping to protect wildlife from oiling by having several people from the OWCN be on site when they opened the valve. So earlier this month, Tim, Stephanie, and I spent four days in and around the water just below the Oroville Dam to help keep wildlife from potentially getting oiled by hazing animals away from the area of immediate impact. We used a combination of several hazing techniques, including hazing from the boat, using stakes with mylar tape set along the shoreline, a realistic-looking owl with a swiveling head that fooled more than one person, and the occasional and very technical “get outta here!” yells. Our scaring tactics were successful in keeping several species away, including a persistent osprey, a family of river otters, and many mergansers. Multiple cleanup crews from NRC were also present during the project, which helped deter animals from landing in the impacted area. In addition, several DFW-OSPR personnel were on site to help oversee the placement of the boom to protect resources. Overall, the project was a great success, and no animals were oiled. We congratulate the Dept. of Water Resources, CA Dept. of Fish and Wildlife – OSPR, and the groups subcontracted (such as NRC and Syblon Reid), for a job well done!



Nancy taking down the owl


Tim, Stephanie, and Nancy looking for wildlife and hazing animals from the boat on a beautiful morning


Mylar tape and booms


Kyra’s land station from where she kept an eye out for animals swimming through or landing in the water


Various project vehicles and materials and the OWCN’s “MASH” (Mobile Avian Stabilization Hospital), ready for action


We were hoping the birds would be scared away by our “hawk”


NRC worker cleaning the  OWCN boat, the "Screaming Grebe"

NRC worker cleaning the OWCN boat, the “Screaming Grebe”

The Start of Something Big

Tim and I just returned from a trip to the Los Angeles Oiled Bird Care and Education Center (LAOBCEC) this past weekend. The purpose of this trip was to meet with Graciela Guerra and two architect colleagues from the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California (UABC) in Ensenada. The meeting included a tour of LAOBCEC so that they could get ideas of how to build a similar facility in Ensenada (but at a smaller scale) that would have the capacity to house, clean, and care for oiled animals in the event of an oil spill. There is no similar facility in all of Mexico, so this would be the first of its kind, and in a country that has very few rehabilitation facilities for wildlife (and none in Baja California), this is a huge step! But in order to understand the lead-up to this meeting it is important to get some of the background history. In giving you some of the history, though, it is a bit like shooting myself in the foot, as I should have written a blog about it way back in April when our meeting before this one took place. Better late than never, I suppose! So here is a blog (within a blog) of a long overdue tale of how all this came about.

Practicing proper techniques for handling and cleaning a bird.

It began about two years ago when I gave an OWCN overview talk at the annual MEXUS meeting. MEXUS Plan is the result of a cooperative agreement that was established in 1980 between Mexico and the U.S. in case of an oil spill. After the presentation, Graciela, a biochemist at UABC, approached me. She was impressed with our system of taking care of oiled wildlife in California and wanted to know if we could help them set up something similar in Baja. From that moment on, Graciela was tireless in her efforts to round up enthusiastic people from different agencies that had a similar interest. As a result, Graciela put together a formal group that had their first official meeting in September 2013 and is known as the Oiled Wildlife Team, or “Equipo de Atención a Fauna Silvestre Empetrolada” (EAFSE). So that’s how it came about that several months later, Mike, Chris, Nancy, and I traveled to Ensenada to give a two-day training on as much oil spill response stuff as we could fit in to those days (including effects of oil on wildlife, how to capture animals safely, how to stabilize birds on the beaches, and how to care for oiled wildlife). The training ended with a tabletop drill.

Mike and his doom and gloom image of a spill affecting a large area of Baja during the Tabletop Drill. Note coffee cup in hand.

One of the subjects that was brought up several times during the two days was that proper training on how to capture and care for oiled wildlife can only go so far without a dedicated and specialized center that can properly and safely clean and house these animals. And getting animals across the border during a spill has its own challenges and time constraints, so having a local facility would be of great benefit to the animals.

So this brings us back full circle and to the reason why Graciela and her colleagues traveled to San Pedro. We look forward to continuing our assistance in this process, along with Graciela and the rest of the EAFSE group.



Elvira, Graciela, Tim, and Claudia at LAOBCEC


Kyra, Graciela, and Tim at LAOBCEC

New Webinars

The OWCN is moving forward with updates to our Online Training Series.  We have created a brand new set of Core webinars that are now available to our Member Organizations.  These Core webinars are introductory webinars designed for brand new staff and volunteers with no spill experience, or staff and volunteers that have been around, but haven’t participated in our Online Training Series previously.  We also welcome everyone who just wants a quick refresher, to view the webinars as well.  These webinars will provide a basic background to oiled wildlife response, and include 1) OWCN Overview, 2) Effects of Oil on Wildlife, 3) Field Operations Overview, and 4) Introduction to Facility Operations.  The first two will be replacing our old “Webinar #1″, and the latter two will provide a brief overview of what happens in the field and at the facility during a spill.

In the coming months we will be making more changes and additions to the Online Training Series.  This fall, look for a redesigned Level 1 series of webinars that will allow our volunteers to select either an Avian or Marine Mammal Level 1 pathway.  As always, we will encourage our volunteers to train in both Avian and Marine Mammal spill response, but will allow for those who want to select just one pathway.  We will be adding a support webinar to the current Avian webinars, and will be removing the previous Marine Mammal webinar (the old webinar #5), and replacing it with a series of Marine Mammal webinars.

Additionally, we are in the process of creating a library of Special Topic webinars designed for those that wish to pursue continuing education in oiled wildlife response.  These webinars will provide education in interesting topics related to spill response, and will join our current Special Topic webinars (Clinical Avian Anatomy, OWCN Protocol Updates, and Avian Hazing).  Look for an announcement on the first set in the near future, with additional Special Topic webinars coming out this fall.

Please check with the  OWCN Volunteer Coordinator for your organization to get the links for these new webinars.  And, as always, a big thank you to all the staff and volunteers at our Member Organizations for being the most enthusiastic and most prepared oiled wildlife response team we could hope for!


“For Wildlife, OWCN is a Lifesaver”

After two years of hard work, the OWCN received wonderful news this past Sunday! The proposal to fund the Statewide Oil Spill program was approved within the State Budget. This means that the OWCN is not only fully funded, but will also be asked to provide wildlife response services for inland regions of the State! We want to thank all of you from the bottoms of our hearts. This favorable outcome would not have been possible without your substantial efforts on our behalf.


The following article by MSNBC.com provides an excellent summary:


For Wildlife, OWCN Can Mean a Life-and-Death Difference

Recently approved state budget ensures agency remains afloat, expands services to inland areas

OAKLAND, Calif. (July 24, 2014) – One moment it’s basking in the sun while drifting on the Pacific Ocean or Monterey Bay; the next, it is covered with black, tar-thick goo. An otter, pelican or seal lacks any concept of oil and knows nothing about the hazardous deadly toxin invading its habitat. Attempts to flee become futile. The thick substance coats fur and feathers, which lose their water-repellent and thermostatic qualities. Instinctive actions, e.g., licking, increase the likelihood of infection and death. Animals coming into contact with oil face immediate and long-term health threats, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report, “Understanding Oil Spills and Oil Spill Response”.

For the thousands of California wildlife killed annually due to toxic environmental disasters on oceans and bays, thousands more are rescued, rehabilitated and released back into the wild by the Oiled Wildlife Care Network. The only wildlife response agency in the world with more than 30 different member organizations comprising world-class aquaria, universities, scientific organizations and rehabilitation groups, according to its Web site, the OWCN has responded to more than 80 spills in California and treated more than 10,000 animals since its 1994 formation, OWCN Director Michael Ziccardi said.

Article Photo
“Olive the Oiled Sea Otter” eating a black abalone at the California DFW Office of Spill Prevention and Response 

Administered by the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine under the auspices of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife Office of Spill Prevention and Response, OWCN formed in response to the Exxon Valdez and American Trader oil spills in Alaska and Huntington Beach, respectively. It is funded primarily by OSPR from interest on a state oil spill trust fund; however, in recent years, below-1 percent interest rates have caused that source to decline and become insufficient for meeting program needs. This forced OWCN managers to begin shutting down operations currently reserved only for the care of wildlife affected by oil in the marine (coastal) environment. Jurisdictional boundaries cause the various birds, lizards, small mammals and other animals existing inland to receive limited to no care from spills in those areas.

Fortunately, all that just changed.

Besides the stable revenue source secured as a result of the legislatively approved state budget signed by Governor Brown on Friday, OWCN’s allocation from OSPR will increase from $2 million to $2.5 million, allowing it to expand its outreach to all California wildlife – those living inland and along coastal shores.  OWCN already has captured, rehabilitated and released hundreds of otters, sea lions, seals, pelicans, seagulls and a legion of other marine mammals and fowl affected by marine water contamination. Now it is preparing to mirror those services for the many rodents, small carnivores, raptors and others making their homes in inland waters, valleys, mountains and hills.

The reliable source for operations costs means OWCN “can continue to operate the world’s best oiled wildlife readiness and response program for California,” Ziccardi wrote in his e-mail response. And because the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 requires big oil to include the care of affected wildlife in oil spill contingency plans, OWCN’s existence benefits it, too. “[T]he petroleum industry can continue to list our operations (which include the integrated efforts of 32 different groups) in their contingency plans at no additional cost to them. It results in a win-win situation for all involved.”

All in this case includes animals, too, those on both land and water, because the budget also contains money that will expand OSPR’s reach to “all state surface waters at risk of oil spills from any source, including pipelines and the increasing shipments of oil transported by railroads.” The use of railways and highways to ship crude, oil and other petroleum products has exploded as a result of increased fracking in California and other states. The role of OWCN in providing trained, reliable staff and volunteers in those areas will be crucial, OSPR spokeswoman Alexia Retallack.

“OWCN is critical to our response in California,” Retallack said during a phone interview. “It’s difficult to maintain trained individuals to do what needs to be done for wildlife once response begins: they must be best-prepared to capture, wash, document them – all those things.”

Aside from being able to emulate its “readiness and response operations developed in marine waters” in the inland regions, OWCN “will be developing protocols and procedures to care for species not previously focused on (e.g., rodents, small carnivores, raptors), bring additional Member Organizations into the OWCN fold, expand training opportunities for these regions, develop facilities and equipment caches to allow for immediate deployment, and similar activities,” Ziccardi noted in his e-mail response. “In short, it will allow us to provide the best available care to oiled animals no matter where they are affected.”