A balloon drifts by a nesting colony of the endangered California least tern.

Photo credit: Marie Travers

Destruction Isn’t Always Black and Slimy

A balloon drifts by a nesting colony of the endangered California least tern. Photo credit: Marie Travers

A balloon drifts by a colony of endangered California least terns.
Photo credit: Marie Travers

During the Refugio Incident oil spill, I had the honor of spending time at the field staging area with some of our field responders. These folks spent their 12-hour workdays trekking up and down beaches, searching for and responding to reports of oiled wildlife.

Trash collected from a 1000 ft stretch of beach, among nesting least terns and snowy plovers. Photo credit: Marie Travers

Trash collected from a 1000 ft stretch of beach, among nesting least terns and snowy plovers.
Photo credit: Marie Travers

But even when they didn’t find oiled wildlife on their outings, they never returned empty-handed. Instead, they brought back handfuls of trash and litter, everything from plastic bags and bottle caps to fishing line and wire.

At the time, our staging area was located at a closed campground near a protected beach – protected because of the endangered and threatened species that could be found there, including a least tern colony and nesting snowy plovers. I’d estimate hundreds of species called that protected bit of beach home – there’s always far more wildlife than you see, and we encountered mallards, ruddy ducks, scoters, stilts, avocets, horned grebes, pelicans, gulls, harbor seals, sea lions, and… well, you get the idea.

Twice a day, we would walk that beach, searching for oiled animals and picking up trash. We never left empty-handed.

This isn’t unusual, and it isn’t good. As icky as we find litter like this (and it does have negative effects on the economy and human health), it’s downright devastating to wildlife. Fishing line causes terrible entanglement issues, animals can get stuck trying to get the last smidge of food out of a poorly-shaped yogurt container, and bits of plastic and foil are mistaken as food and ingested by many species. These things can and do result in injury and often death.

Entanglement Photo credit: Marie Travers

Entanglement in particular causes severe damage that does not always respond to treatment, though there are plenty of uplifting stories as well.
Photo credit: Marie Travers

We like to think that litter like this comes from careless people who can’t be bothered to find a trash can, and I’m sure some of it does. But the truth is litter comes from all sorts of places – many of which you’d never think of.

Photo credit: Marie Travers Sad that a symbol of celebration and victory can cause such unintended destruction!

Sad that a symbol of celebration and victory can cause such harm.
Photo credit: Marie Travers

Balloons for example – how many times have you seen an escaped balloon floating away from a kid at a fair, and thought about the danger it poses to wildlife? It seems pretty innocent, but once those balloons are out of sight, they don’t cease to exist. They end up in beautiful places like our protected beach, where they stick around for a long time (especially the mylar ones; those things are nigh-indestructible). Then wild animals can encounter them.

So how can you help?

  • At home, dispose of items like balloons, plastic bags, yogurt containers, and fishing line properly.
  • Reduce the use of these items, and you’ll reduce their presence in the waste-stream – for example, use reusable shopping bags and washable containers.
  • You can consider volunteering with a beach clean-up program, like the California Coastal Cleanup Day on Saturday Sept 19, 2015 – but really, no need to wait, just pick up any trash you see when you go out to the beach!
  • Stop and help/report entangled or trapped wildlife; allowing permitted wildlife rehabilitation professionals to provide the care they need.

Oil Spill Over, But Animal Care Continues

The following is a guest blog by Kelly Berry of International Bird Rescue.  Even though the majority of animals that we had in care from the spill have been released, our colleagues at International Bird Rescue and SeaWorld have been hard at work caring for the remaining animals.  Thank you for all the effort you have put into caring for the special cases that need a little more time before release! -Becky

Photo credit: Kelly Berry of International Bird Rescue

Photo credit: Kelly Berry of International Bird Rescue

When an oil spill occurs, the media rush in to meet the public’s desire to know what the environmental effects will be, putting forth iconic images of struggling wildlife and crude-covered habitats. They then go on to capture inspiring moments of cleanup efforts and successfully washed and saved animals. Unfortunately (and understandably), public interest wanes as the cleanup process draws down. The beaches are reopened for public use, and the majority of what the public sees has been neutralized. However, this is not the story’s end for wildlife rehabilitators and the affected wildlife that remain in care.

Hundreds of wildlife specialists across California are trained to rescue and rehabilitate wildlife affected by oil spills. Contaminated animals are rescued and transported to a wildlife hospital, where they are stabilized, washed to remove the oil, and treated for injuries. Sometimes removing the contaminant is not enough though; in fact, the crude very often masks secondary injuries and health problems. For example, the contaminant can render the animal’s primary defense against injury and harm—its hair, fur, or feathers—ineffective, leading to starvation, hypothermia, burns, and other wounds. The upshot is that animals impacted by oil spills often must remain in care longer than expected.

The recent oil spill near Refugio State Beach impacted hundreds of native animals, primarily sea birds and marine mammals, with the California Brown Pelican being the most affected bird. Wildlife hospitals, such as International Bird Rescue, were tasked to treat the contaminated sea birds. Trained technicians, volunteers, and veterinary staff at Bird Rescue spent countless hours washing and restoring the patients to full health. By the time the oil spill cleanup was over, all but three of the rescued birds had been given a clean bill of health and released.

Photo credit: Kelly Berry of International Bird Rescue

Photo credit: Kelly Berry of International Bird Rescue

One of the three, a Ring-Billed Gull (number R56), was emaciated and dehydrated upon admission into care; in addition, its feathers were in such poor condition that it could not sustain flight. This gull, which took several days of supportive care just to recover its willingness to eat, is currently molting and doing laps in the Bird Rescue aviary as it grows strong enough to fly. The second bird, Brown Pelican W19, came into care completely coated in oil. After W19 was washed, staff found a chest abscess that required antibiotics and surgery. The abscess was surgically removed, and the bird completed a full course of antibiotics. Now fully healed and flying beautifully, W19 was released on August 18. And the final patient, Brown Pelican W1005, was covered in oil and had a foot infection from an unknown source. This bird has been washed, has undergone two surgeries, and remains on antibiotics. W1005’s prognosis is guarded, but Bird Rescue staff are working hard to ensure it gets all the care it needs.

For each individual wild animal, the traumatic physical effects of an oil spill end when it is returned home. International Bird Rescue, along with every diligent wildlife organization that makes up the Oiled Wildlife Care Network, holds one basic conviction for dealing with affected animals: Every individual matters. The collective goal in our community is to restore every animal to full health and release it back into the wild.

-Kelly Berry

Refugio Incident Update 8/19/2015

Photos and updates on animals affected by the Refugio Incident, provided by the Joint Information Center:

Three California sea lions returned to the wild off the California coast near San Diego on August 16, after wildlife care experts determined they were ready for release.  They were wearing satellite tags so scientists can track their activities following their rehabilitation after the oil spill. Wildlife experts captured the sea lions during the Refugio Oil Spill Response that started on May 19, when Pipeline 901 leaked oil into the Pacific Ocean in northern Santa Barbara County.


Have You Seen Me?

Green-banded (as well as blue-banded) pelicans are out there and we need your help in reporting them!  The green-banded birds are the Brown Pelicans that were brought to the Los Angeles Oiled Bird Care and Education Center during the Refugio Oil Spill. They were subsequently washed, rehabilitated, and released. And we want to follow them as much as we can and find out how they do. This is where YOU come in! This information is very important for figuring out what happens to these pelicans after they are released. Where do they go? What do they do? Do they survive? Do they breed successfully? These are just some of the questions that we would like to answer. There are very few studies out there that have successfully followed animals after an oil spill. And yet this type of information is crucial for helping determine the best care of oiled animals.

Refugio Spill pelican with a green band. (Photo by Mike Harris).

Refugio Spill pelican with a green band. (Photo by Mike Harris).

So if you see a pelican wearing some green jewelry (see picture), please report it here.

International Bird Rescue also bands pelicans that go through rehabilitation, but they band them with blue bands. If you see a pelican with a blue band, please report it here.

By reporting pelicans with colored bands, you will be contributing to expand the body of knowledge of what happens to animals after they are released.

Thank you in advance!


Oilapalooza 2015

Oilapalooza registration is now open, and will remain open through August 31st!

Oilapalooza lectures will be taking place in Emeryville, CA at the Hilton Garden Inn on October 17, with labs at the San Francisco Bay Oiled Wildlife Care and Education Center the following day (18th).  Lecture and hands-on labs will be available on diverse topics such as Refugio Response Recap, Inland Response Techniques, and current research in the oiled wildlife response field.

In order to sign up, you must be a registered OWCN responder affiliated with one of our Member Organizations or affiliated agencies.  You must complete all four Core Webinars before you can register for the conference; some labs will require additional prerequisites, which you will have until August 31st to complete.  Log into your responder profile and go to the sign-up tab to register today.

We look forward to seeing you all in Emeryville!


Welcome, Scott!

scott bottle feeding blackwolf csl

Scott bottle-feeding a California Sea Lion.

The OWCN is happy to introduce the newest addition to our team, Scott Buhl!  Scott comes to us with a variety of experience, most recently having worked for almost 6 years at The Marine Mammal Center, filling various roles during that time (including Marine Mammal Stranding Coordinator, Volunteer Coordinator, and Volunteer Resources Manager).

I would like to share a glimpse into who Scott is, by sharing some of his responses during a recent conversation I had with him.

What inspires you to do what you do?

When asked this question, without hesitation, Scott answered that his love of the ocean has been instrumental in guiding his studies and chosen career path. He is a native California kid, having grown up in the San Diego area, visiting SeaWorld and the San Diego Zoo countless times during his childhood. He also spent time along the Central coast and graduated from UCLA with a Bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology. Since then he has worked for various organizations that share a common theme: ocean and animals.

What do you do on weekends?

Scott loves exploring nature with this dog, Charley, and his girlfriend, Kelli.  They also are adventurous on the culinary side, exploring restaurants, especially dog-friendly restaurants that have good beer.  Movies are also a passion for Scott.  Favorite movies?  Shawshank Redemption and American History X.

What inspires you today?

“Effective action toward positive change”.  Scott believes this to be a central theme in every place he has worked, including the OWCN. He is also inspired by seeing other people’s compassion and positive actions to make the world a better place for the environment and its animals.

Favorite book?

Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond.

Scott with Southeast Farallon Island in the background.

As the Wildlife Recovery Specialist, Scott will be assisting with Wildlife Recovery trainings throughout the state, and helping to increase our readiness and response capabilities on the inland side, as well as the marine side.

We are happy and proud to have Scott join our team.  WELCOME, SCOTT!


Because everyone’s asking . . . . here is Refugio pelican Blue One!

Early on during the Refugio Beach spill, I blogged about an adult male pelican called Blue One. He was the first pelican rescued from the spill, and when he came in he was completely saturated in oil, and pretty sad.


Even after he was washed, he had some problems: his foot joints were swollen, and he was very weak. We babied him along, and gave him lots of TLC. It took him a while to learn how to feed himself, and at every stage of the rehabilitation process, he seemed to need more time. Finally, he was out in the aviary, self-feeding, with normal joints, and walking and swimming well. However, he wasn’t flying, and since he came in with a healed wing fracture, we were a bit worried.

Well, I never blogged about his release and I’ve gotten a ton of questions about him . . . many from people who started by saying, “I’m afraid to ask, but how is Blue One?” I realized that people were afraid to ask because they thought he might have died, or been euthanized, so I want to set the record straight and announce that Blue One did eventually start flying! He was released, and not only that, he was seen by Kelly of International Bird Rescue after his release, looking well. Here he is in a photo that she took:

blue one after release

So never fear, Blue One is out there in the world, being a pelican, and I couldn’t be happier about it! He has a green plastic band on, as do all of the oiled pelicans from the Refugio spill, so if you see a bird with a green band and a code that begins with “Z,” please let us know. It’s the best news you could give us.


Green-banded pelicans can be reported here: http://www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/owcn/green-banded-pelicans.cfm