Announcing…A New Training Program!

We are thrilled to introduce our new training program! Now, I know that not everyone is as thrilled as we are with this new program; mainly because – let’s face it – we have changed training and qualifications quite a bit in the past few years.  However, we like to think of it more as an “evolution” rather than as a “change” as we have gone through several staff changes within the UC Davis management team – each person bringing with them new ideas on how to make our response team even better.  Within the past year, we have been working hard to standardize and integrate our training program within all areas of wildlife response (versus each stream having their own pre-requisites and different standards for response).

This new training program has the following general goals:

  1. Develop a team of oiled wildlife responders that have the knowledge, skills, experience, and attitude (cohesion, trust, confidence in each other and the team) needed to provide the best achievable capture and care in an oiled wildlife response organization.
  1. Promote enthusiasm and continued engagement and commitment of individuals from all OWCN member organizations.
  1. Train each individual to the level which they have set for themselves, to the best of their potential and interest.

OWCN’s new stepwise approach to training for wildlife response.

With these goals in mind, we developed a step-wise approach within both field as well as animal care operations.  Each step is designed to build upon the previous step, in terms of knowledge, development of skills, and experience.  The program is built upon the understanding that there are many common concepts and skills across the different streams (hazing, wildlife recovery, field stabilization, and care and processing). With this in mind, more introductory trainings can be attended by both field-focused as well as animal care-focused responders, rather than separating each stream into different tracks.  By capitalizing on common concepts, we believe that this accomplishes 2 main goals:

  1. Makes training more efficient (instead of each stream lead teaching the same information to each separate group).
  2. Contributes to a more unified training program overall, as well as helping to develop cross-training and networking between the different stream members.

Training program roll-out schedule

Earlier this month Curt announced the roll-out of the new Core Webinars that are
available for watching through your Responder Profile in Better Impact.  These 3 Core Webinars are interactive and present new information, with only the first  (Overview) being a review of past material.  As such, we are giving credit for this first new offering to those responders that have already taken the old Overview and Effects of Oil on Wildlife webinars.  We do ask, however, that you watch the other two webinars, as they contain new information and provide a foundation for understanding the next levels of training.

The next tier of trainings, entitled Basic Responder, is a one day in-person training. We will begin those trainings in 2017, and plan on having several throughout California.  In addition, we will also be delivering the Oiled Wildlife Response Specialist training, which is a two day in-person training. The final tier in this new training system will be a Manager Training, which we plan on also rolling out in 2017. We will be giving you more information on each of these trainings soon!

Thank you for your continued support, involvement, and patience as we roll out our new training program.  Stay tuned for announcements of the in-person trainings in your area starting in early 2017. Hope to see all of you at a future training!


Into the Belly of the Whale: Preparing for Large Marine Animal Evidence Collection

Two weeks ago Mike, Scott, Greg, and I traveled to Shepherdstown, West Virginia for the National Marine Animal Health and Stranding Network Conference. In addition to three days of excellent lectures and wetlabs that provided state of the art training on the rescue and rehabilitation of stranded marine mammals & sea turtles, this conference was unique because it was the first to include a half – day drill on all aspects of oiled wildlife response, including data collection for Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA).


The National Ocean Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s website ( defines NRDA as “… the legal process that federal agencies like NOAA, together with the states and Indian tribes, use to evaluate the impacts of oil spills, hazardous waste sites, and ship groundings on natural resources both along the nation’s coast and throughout its interior.”

This means that during oil spills, OWCN, our Member Organizations, and Affiliated Agencies need to collect evidence from the animals that we rescue not only for the investigation and response needs, but for post-spill assessment activities as well. For live marine animals, this typically means taking photographs of the animal before it is collected and obtaining external samples (such as hair or skin swabs) that can be tested for petroleum contamination as soon after capture as it is safe to do so.

OWCN personnel collecting external petroleum sample from elephant seal during the Refugio Incident near Santa Barbara. Photo by Gyle Uyehara.

OWCN personnel collecting external petroleum sample from elephant seal during the Refugio Incident near Santa Barbara. Photo by Gayle Uyehara.

When animals are found dead, in addition to photographs and external samples, internal samples are needed. For animals that are small enough to transport, full necropsies (animal postmortem examinations) are performed in a laboratory at a Primary Care Center (or Processing Facility if set up in a different location). Often hundreds of samples are collected including internal organs, blood, bile, urine, gastrointestinal tract contents, any abnormal tissues, etc. Often each type of sample must be collected in triplicate and preserved by several methods (formalin, frozen, for petroleum testing, culture, etc.). It is quite a task to just complete a necropsy, much less document and keep track of all the samples.

Field Processing team simulating performing a field necropsy at the National Marine Animal Health and Stranding Conference.

Field Processing team simulating performing a field necropsy at the National Marine Animal Health and Stranding Conference.

When animals are too large to move, such as is the case with baleen whales, elephant seals, and large sea turtles or seal lions, the necropsy must be performed by a Field Processing team on the beach where the animals stranded. As you can imagine, there can be many difficulties performing such a delicate and involved procedure on a windy beach, particularly if the weather is inclement. One of the biggest obstacles is getting all the required equipment to the site. In addition to all the tools needed for the sampling, there is the equipment that is needed to get access to the inside of the whale and to keep personnel safe.

Field Processing team discussing their approach to a field necropsy of simulated dead whale at the National Marine Animal Health and Stranding Conference.

Field Processing team discussing their approach to a field necropsy of simulated dead whale at the National Marine Animal Health and Stranding Conference.

To meet this need in California, the OWCN has just completed stocking a large marine animal necropsy trailer that is ready to roll at a moments notice. All the equipment and personal protective equipment (PPE) needed to necropsy any marine mammal including a large whale is present in the trailer.

Equipment stores in the new OWCN large marine animal necropsy trailer.

Equipment stores in the new OWCN large marine animal necropsy trailer.

While we hope that a large whale never dies or strands during an oil spill, if it happens, the OWCN and our partners will be ready to collect the evidence needed to determine if petroleum was a factor in the animal’s demise. Also because so little is known about the biology of large marine mammals, the precious information gained by performing these necropsies will help us to better understand marine mammal health, thus providing us with the opportunity to improve care, treatments and conservation efforts for living marine animals.

Labeling for one of many containers of equipment for the new OWCN large marine animal necropsy trailer.

Labeling for one of many containers of equipment for the new OWCN large marine animal necropsy trailer.


I hear that train a’coming…

owcn-training-program-train-pictures-29In the blog announcing the Summit I mentioned that we have been working to revise our training program and that there would be more announcements soon. Well, soon comes today. When the OWCN Deputy Director positions were filled, Director Mike Ziccardi prioritized the review and revision of the training program to make it as efficient and consistent as possible across all areas.

As most of you know, the goal of the OWCN training program is to build on the existing strengths and skills of the Member Organizations, adding training specific to oiled wildlife deterrence, recovery and care, hazardous materials safety, emergency response and ICS. The aim of the OWCN from the start has been to produce a team of wildlife responders throughout California who, working together, can provide best achievable capture and care for wildlife impacted by oil spills. The obstacle we face in achieving this is that, first, our member organizations are already very busy working to collectively care for, study and protect thousands of animals every day; second, they are spread over a state that contains more than 150,000 square miles; and, finally, most of the people we depend on are volunteers who are very dedicated but also have a life. The difficult part is building both skills and a team that can be equally effective no matter who responds to any particular spill anywhere in the state. In emergency response, working together effectively is as important as the technical skills you possess. So the training program must be effective in building skills, team work, and local knowledge of all of the participants (including the OWCN Management Team) as well as easy to navigate and, dare I say, convenient. In reviewing and discussing methods of training and how it has evolved over the last 20 plus years, we decided to mash up what we see as OWCN’s Greatest Hits, The Training Years.


Our vision is a modularized, multi-modal program that allows each participant to choose how far they want to go, either for their own knowledge or to move up in their role as a responder. These will include concise, focused online webinars, multiple local one-day basic responder trainings to prepare for basic roles in any or all areas of the wildlife response, regional oiled wildlife specialist trainings to provide “lead by example” workers in each work area, and finally focused area manager trainings for those who really can’t get enough and want to prepare themselves for roles as Strike Team Leaders, Area Coordinators and Group Supervisors.

By the time you read this blog, the foundation of our new training program, the Core Webinars, will be up and available for viewing by those of you who are part of the Network and in the Better Impact database. Our plan is to have two of the Basic Responder in-person trainings scheduled and completed by the end of this year and to add the Specialist and Manager trainings next year.



It is admittedly a very ambitious schedule, but we are working hard to meet our targets. We are looking forward to getting your feedback on the first step – the new Core Webinars. Stephanie Herman has worked many long hours focusing, writing, and revising the material to make it informative, engaging, fun, and focused as well as easier to complete in your limited available hours. Let us know what you think. One question some of you might have is what about all of the training I have already taken? Does this mean I can’t respond to spills now? No, absolutely not! While we are trying to design the new training so that everyone will be chomping at the bit to sign-up, we will be phasing in the requirements and if you currently meet the requirements for your level of responder you will have several years to get the new in-person trainings once they are available to you. We do encourage everyone to at least go through the new Core Webinars over the next few months. They should only take you a couple of hours, they do have important up to date information on our volunteer and staffing system with Better Impact, and may help avoid some confusion during a spill. Like I said before, we would like to hear what think about the them, good or bad.

Till next time



Refugio Incident Report

untitledWe wanted to let everyone know that you can now find the Refugio Incident After Action Review and Lessons Learned report on our website.  This report summarizes the discussions that took place during a workshop in July 2015 at UC Davis.  The goal of this workshop was to highlight what key responders believed went well during the Refugio Spill response, as well as what the group recommended as needing additional action.

We sincerely thank everyone that took part during the Refugio Incident and during the workshop.  It is only through practice and honest evaluation that we can develop a better response to future events.  And it is only with the knowledge, experience, and enthusiasm of such a great Network that we can save as many animals as we can from oil spills.  Each of you played a critical part in this response. Thank you!

Kyra Mills- Parker (Deputy Director, Field Ops) and Curt Clumpner (Deputy Director, Care Ops)



Valuable Lessons

Since my last blog in June, a lot has happened on the field ops side, including (and especially!) the Grove Incident in Ventura.  Approach of a holiday weekend, once again, signaled the springing into action of the OWCN Management Team (two years ago the OWCN was activated on the 4th of July for the Tesoro Spill, last year we were activated for the Refugio Incident on Memorial Day, and this year we were activated on the 4th of July for Grove).  I’m starting to dread holidays.

As I mentioned in my last post, in an attempt to better prepare for inland expansion, the Field Ops team is increasing the amount and types of field equipment (both hazing and recovery), and pre-staging them in several parts of the state.  In addition, we have recently expanded the core hazing team by incorporating staff biologists from the Institute for Wildlife Studies (IWS).  These biologists normally work on projects scattered throughout the state, and thus are likely to be in relative proximity to any given inland spill.  The Grove Incident allowed us to test our initial inland preparedness plans, as well as highlight several issues we will likely face in future inland spills, including:

  1. Difficulty of access to the spill site for initial recon and recovery, as well as setting up of hazing equipment. This was the case at the Grove Incident due to the steep walls of the canyon, heavy brush, and requirements for 40-hr HAZWOPER training and respirators for anyone going into the canyon.  Of course, that was where we needed our field teams to be, and this delayed some essential parts of our initial response.  Nevertheless, safety of our personnel was uppermost in our minds, and though lack of access was frustrating, we were glad that the safety officers were looking out for us.  Several Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) personnel, who were allowed to go into the canyon, helped us with some of the initial needs.  Ultimately, we were able to gain access into the oiled portion of the canyon and deploy both hazing and recovery equipment, but we were closely monitored at all times by air

    Mylar streams along the creek bed to deter birds.

    quality monitors.

  2. Difficulty of deploying even the simplest hazing devices (such as mylar tape) because of inability to access the spill site. We were able to get OSPR personnel to put some mylar up for us in the spill zone, and we placed restrictive fencing and hazing devices (mylar, security lighting, predator lights, and trail cameras) in the areas of the streambed we were allowed into, both upstream and downstream of the spill.  The idea behind deploying this equipment was to deter and restrict wildlife from walking along the streambed and into the spill area.  Once we had access to the spill area we deployed additional mylar, which helped prevent birds from coming into contact with the oil, and predator lights to reduce the likelihood of animals like foxes, coyotes, etc. from walking into the oiled areas.
  3. Difficulty of identifying which species were getting oiled. We quickly realized we had no idea what animals (species and numbers) were around the oil due to the heavy brush and restricted access.  We were able to check flighted birds for oil with binoculars if they were outside the restricted area, and that allowed us to focus on capturing any that were oiled.  In order to know what animals might be moving into the oiled area at night, and their oiling status, we borrowed trail cameras from another project.  These cameras were essential in providing information on the use of the area by animals during the night, and this made us realize that we needed to add trail cameras to our own field ops inventory.
  4. Difficulty capturing oiled animals. With the exception of one oiled woodrat, and a few animals like a gray fox seen on camera with slight oiling on its feet, the remainder of observed oiled animals were flighted birds that had to be captured in traps.  No more setting out into the field with a long-handled dip net, like in marine spills.  Instead, we had to utilize bait stations and a variety of trap styles and sizes in areas where oiled birds (jays and towhees, mainly) were spotted.  We also used mist nets to survey the bird populations that we couldn’t easily observe directly for oiling status.

    Grove SCJA

    Western Scrub Jay in Grove area.

  5. Difficulty assessing smaller ground animals such as rodents and reptiles that were difficult to observe on the trail cameras. We ultimately set large numbers of rodent and reptile traps in order to survey the populations in the area of the spill, and found minimal oil presence on the animals.  We realized that this kind of trapping should be done proactively and as early in the spill as possible to quickly identify the animals that had more significant oil before they simply disappeared into the brush due to illness or death.
  6. Challenges of doing hazing and recovery activities at the same time. Because this spill required active hazing, but also required recovery personnel ready to pick up any affected animals, we quickly realized that field teams that combined hazing and recovery personnel would be most effective, although this presented more of a challenge with regards to coordination and flexibility for both the field teams and the field supervisor. In future spills we anticipate that having field teams knowledgeable and capable of performing both hazing and recovery tasks will be much more important than having these streams separate.  We are hopeful that our new OWCN training program (officially to be launched in September) will better prepare for responders that are cross-trained for both types of field activities, as well as increase their comfort level in using different field techniques needed for inland spills.
Grove Incident Photo

OWCN Field Ops Team: Richard Grise (International Bird Rescue), Gayle Uyehara (California Wildlife Center), Jake Manley (Institute for Wildlife Studies), and Jamie Bourdon (UC Davis).

In summary, the Grove Incident gave us lots of food for thought, and gave us an opportunity to try out new equipment, techniques, and work with new personnel on our team.  We really appreciated the “old hands” that came from Member Orgs to contribute their experience from other spills, and the integration with the IWS biologists who brought lots of hazing and capture knowledge of inland animals.  I thought everyone did great work over really long days (daylight to dark in many cases), and am extremely appreciative of their efforts and willingness to go above and beyond.

Over the next few weeks we will be having several meetings to talk about “lessons learned” and how we can improve in the future, but we feel that we can now go forward in a more informed way to prepare for the next spill, whether inland or marine, and will be better able to meet the next set of challenges.

– Winston

Pelicans Post Refugio

It has been over one year since we released 12 oiled and rehabilitated, and 8 control brown pelicans equipped with satellite tags. After the Refugio oil spill in Santa Barbara, the OWCN decided to follow 12 pelicans after release to try to better document survival and movement patterns of birds that were oiled and subsequently captured, cleaned, and rehabilitated. We also caught, tagged, and released 8 unoiled pelicans as controls for comparison.

If you read this blog regularly, you’ll know a little bit about these birds already. All of the pelicans, oiled and control, survived for a full 3 months. Nearly all of the oiled birds took long journeys; some moved a total distance of nearly 5000 km by the end of January! Several pelicans spent the fall on the Oregon coast or in Baja California. This is extremely valuable information, as it demonstrates that a pelican recently oiled and in captivity, as well as equipped with a harness and satellite tag, may travel over extended distances.

We also learned that many of these pelicans appeared to behave normally, at least at the coarse scale that we were able to measure. Traveling long distances is great, but it’s not everything; we want to know *where* they traveled. If we’d gotten transmissions from Kansas City or Edmonton, we’d be a little concerned! But in fact, all of the tagged birds moved up or down the coast and frequented sites where pelicans live. In other words, our tagged birds behaved like California pelicans.

One year later, two control and one oiled bird are still transmitting. At least one oiled bird that “disappeared” may have a faulty tag; it came back to life (!!) briefly last month, and seemed to have perfectly normal pelican movements over a couple of days before it stopped transmitting again. In addition, we’ve gotten a couple reports of tagged birds being spotted in the wild doing well, despite the fact that they stopped transmitting months ago. That means that some of the birds that we thought had died might just have faulty tags, or lost their tags.

See the first map below for the locations of the three birds still transmitting. There is one in dark red north of LA, one in San Diego, and one on the northwestern coast of the Gulf of California.

early aug 2016In the next map, you can see a close-up of the bird in Ventura. This is a control pelican. In the first map, it appears as a single dot, but when you zoom in, you can see that it’s making typical flights back and forth across Ventura harbor. close up N12 aug 2016We’ll be analyzing data from this study for some time, but the initial findings are pretty fascinating! Knowing that many of these birds survive oiling and captivity and go on to live in their “homes” is a thrill, a relief, a comfort, and a vindication of all that we do.


P.S. Birders, keep reporting those green-banded pelicans here!! Blue-banded pelicans can be reported to our partners at International Bird Rescue here.


Mt Shuksan ashes05009_01

A Glimpse of the Summit

The two constants over the 20 + years since the birth of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network have been change and striving to improve as individual organizations and as a team. We are currently working feverishly to re-envision our training program in order to achieve consistent excellence across all areas of a wildlife response anywhere in California – expanding into inland areas and species with new organizations and responders while leveraging the knowledge and experience of our marine base. Over the next 6 months you will see more of the specifics of this change in the training program as each of the elements go live. The greatest strength of OWCN is the knowledge of its organizations and people, and finding ways to best use that knowledge and experience for maximum impact in wildlife response is our ultimate goal.

Today I get to share with you an event whose goal is exactly that, and one element that I am personally very excited about. As a part of our efforts to evolve the OWCN training program to meet the challenges of our expanded responsibilities for all of California, October will see an example of that new culture with the debut of the first OWCN Wildlife Summit. We admit like so many great ideas it is not original. The concept is based on the annual NW Area Plan Summit held in Seattle, but we are the first (we think) to bring it into focus on wildlife.

The OWCN Wildlife Summit has a number of goals all built on the idea that the OWCN is a world leader because of its unique mix of member organizations, the UC Davis Management Team, and consistent financial support through OSPR and industry to continually invest in best achievable capture and care.

  1. To provide a regular (every two years) review of our protocols and procedures for the capture and care of oil affected wildlife and the Wildlife Plan for California by both the OWCN Management Team (e.g., UC Davis staff) and the Member Organizations.
  2. To provide an opportunity for discussion and prioritization of additions or adjustments by the OWCN Management team, representatives from Member Organizations, and key trustee representatives based on our collective experience summit to summit and a mechanism to facilitate workgroups produce response tools based on those discussions.
  3. An opportunity to familiarize Member Organizations with the equipment stockpile for wildlife response that the OWCN has in Davis and seek input on equipment additions and remote stockpiles.
  4. To provide an opportunity for Member Organization input on priorities for wildlife response exercises.

The initial OWCN Wildlife Summit will take place October 15 and 16 in Davis. Saturday will be a day long discussion/work party focusing on plans, protocols, and exercises. Sunday morning will be dedicated to equipment with activities taking place at the “Boneyard” where OWCN’s stockpile of response equipment is stored. Walk through displays of mobile equipment and storage areas will provide fuel for discussions on additional equipment needs, deployment strategies and remote stockpiles.


Space will be limited and we are looking for active participants with ideas and energy dedicated to improving our collective readiness, but at least one spot will be held for each Member Organization until the mid September registration deadline. Slots not claimed by the deadline will then be distributed among nominated candidates – subject matter expert from member organizations wanting to send multiple representatives as well as other interested representatives from other stakeholders from industry and trustee agencies such as OSPR, USFWS, and NOAA.

Specific information on registration, travel support and preparation will be going out to our Member Organization contacts in early August. Because of the size and scope of this event, our plan is to rotate this event alternating years with Oilapalooza. Don’t worry though – new and exciting training opportunities will be announced soon to make sure even on the years where Oilapalooza isn’t held, hands-on training experiences can be found within the OWCN!

I think this will be a fun and productive event and I hope many of you will be there. For those who aren’t, I can assure you we will be sharing the results in a variety of ways including a future blog.