My week at The Marine Mammal Center: Seals, sea lions, fur seals and much, much more!


Henry Ford once said, “Coming together is the beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.”

As you may know, the Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN) was established 25 years ago with the goal of bringing together universities, regulatory agencies, and wildlife care organizations with the interest of working collaboratively to rescue and rehabilitate oiled wildlife. Today, the network has more than 40 Member Organizations and is recognized as a world leader in oiled wildlife response. As part of Readiness and Reaching Out (two of our four R’s) we regularly work with our Member Organizations to build relationships and refine our wildlife capture and care skills.

Last month I had the opportunity to spend a week at The Marine Mammal Center. The Marine Mammal Center is one of our Member Organizations and is the world’s largest marine mammal rehabilitation hospital. Since my past marine mammal experience was limited to working with captive pinnipeds and wild sea otters undergoing rehabilitation, I was in for a real treat (and a steep learning curve).


Danene Birtell, OWCN (left) with Christina Caporale (middle) and Kelly Franky (right), both from the North Carolina Zoo, work together to identify animals that need to be weighed. Credit © The Marine Mammal Center

One of the first lessons I learned was that the herding boards are your best friend and a VERY useful tool, especially with curious California sea lions.  After my orientation I was paired with members of “Crew”, who are very knowledgeable volunteers. During my visit I was able to spend three days on Crew and the only word I have for these individuals is AMAZING! I had the opportunity to learn about animal behavior, diet preparation, animal restraint, documentation, communication, and so much more. The Crew volunteers were very patient anexcellent mentors to all of the visitors. I also had the chance to refresh my veterinary technician skills by spending two days with the Veterinary Science team. I assisted with various types of medical procedures, ranging from intake exams to sedating animals for x-rays and wound management.

Another highlight was the opportunity to work with other visitors who traveled to Sausalito to assist The Marine Mammal Center with the unusually high number of animals that came in this summer. Many of the visitors were from zoos and aquariums, which reminded me of the importance of transdisciplinary collaboration and team building outside of our immediate circle of colleagues.

As we reflect on 25 years since the inception of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network I can honestly say that we have come together, stayed together, and continue to work together to ensure we put our best foot forward to save wildlife impacted by environmental stressors. A HUGE thank you to the OWCN Management Team and The Marine Mammal Center staff and volunteers for all of your support during my visit. Oh, and by the way, I love elephant seals!

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Elephant seal @ The Marine Mammal Center
Credit © The Marine Mammal Center



Danene Birtell -Readiness Coordinator, Oiled Wildlife Care Network

2020-2021 Call for Research Proposals

The Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN) is currently seeking proposals from researchers and wildlife professionals who are interested in getting answers to questions that will:

  • Enhance our ability to save more animals
  • Increase efficient use of current resources
  • Facilitate adoption of new, effective technologies

This year, we are prioritizing proposals that focus on California’s inland species that are at high risk of oiling. This includes wildlife that live in or near inland waters or wetlands that are located near highways, rail lines, production facilities, pipelines, etc..

In particular, we are interested in learning more about:

  • The effects of oil on inland wildlife species
  • Development or testing of deterrent and hazing methods


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A maximum of $200,000 is available for proposals for this fiscal year. Single year projects requesting ≤ $15,000 are considered as small grants. As such, submission of the pre-proposal format suffices as a complete small grant application.  Small-grant proposals should be submitted no later than 5:00 pm (PST) on 20 December 2019.

Investigators requesting > $15,000 (or for multiple years of support), should submit a pre-proposal no later than 5:00 pm (PST) on 6 September 2019. Should the pre-proposal be favorably reviewed, a full proposal will be required. Multi-year projects are considered. However, annual application, provision of complete and timely progress reports, and competitive review are required to maintain ongoing funding.

For more details regarding grant guidelines, proposal format, examples of previously-funded projects, and the review process, please visit the OWCN’s website.

If you have questions, please contact call Pamela Roualdes at or at (530) 752-4167.

Oilapalooza 2019 – Join the Fun!

oilapalooza is now live

If you are an active Oiled Wildlife Care Network responder and would like to join us at this year’s Oilapalooza, log onto your responder profile to sign up now!

Oilapalooza 2019 will be taking place October 16th & 17th in the Arcata/Eureka area.  The first day will consist of lectures on a diverse range of spill response topics at the Sequoia Conference Center in Eureka, followed by an evening reception hosted at The Inn at 2nd and C. The second day consists of hands-on workshops at various local sites, including the Marine Wildlife Care Center located on Humboldt State University campus (Oilapalooza 2019 Workshop Summary (Sneak Peak))

Attending Oilapalooza is free, but spots are limited and go fast, so sign up now!  If you find the list already full, please consider adding yourself to the waitlist, as often a few spots become available as the dates approach. Registration will close on August 31st.

Lastly, if you wish you could join the fun but can’t get away that week, we will be live streaming the lectures on day 1 only via Zoom (more info on this will be shared later this month).

We are really looking forward to this year’s Oilapalooza and hope to see you there!

-The OWCN Management Team

Time Well Spent with International Bird Rescue


A baby dinosaur green heron growing up at International Bird Rescue.

Last month I spent a few days working with one of our member orgs, International Bird Rescue (IBR), at the San Francisco Bay Oiled Wildlife Care and Education Center (SFBOWCEC) in Cordelia. Visiting and learning about our member orgs is easily my favorite part of my job. I love seeing innovations in wildlife medicine, husbandry, and nutrition. Because wildlife rehab is still a relatively young field, there are seemingly endless possibilities for advancements. When we need to splint the broken toe of a baby heron, do we hop on No! We assemble the supplies available to us—coffee stirrers, a recycled Styrofoam tray, and a few kinds of tape. Does Safeway carry the preferred diet of a growing Killdeer chick? Nope. We concoct a fantastically disgusting platter of invertebrates and experiment with the presentation until the chick finds it irresistible. Yum! We’re pioneers. We’re learners. There’s no textbook (unless we write it!), no youtube tutorial, no college major for wildlife rehab. We learn by doing, by trying, and by talking to each other. That’s why spending time at other rehab centers can be so valuable.

I plan to visit as many of our member orgs as possible over the next few years—starting with those facilities that the OWCN would occupy during a spill. While I find it really interesting to glean helpful tips from working along side other rehabbers, my main objectives on these visits are more broad. Spending a few days shadowing staff and volunteers allows me to get familiar with the daily operations of a center. To learn its strengths, meet its volunteers, and get acquainted with the facility itself—which enclosures are best suited to certain species? How much laundry can be tackled in a day? Where are the pumps for the pools and how the heck do I turn them on??

During my time with IBR at SFBOWCEC I got to help with a variety of tasks. I cleaned cages with some of their most experienced and dedicated volunteers (some of them with more than 10 years of volunteer service under their belts!). I helped move baby ducks, herons, and egrets as they graduated from incubators into wall cages or peliboxes to large aviaries. I prepared countless breakfasts, second breakfasts, lunches, and dinners for hungry gulls, loons, mergansers, herons, egrets, and my favorite—a shearwater! As the center’s summertime “aroma” indicates, IBR goes through a staggering amount of high-quality fish each day. A variety of species are used: Peruvian smelt, night smelt, and capelin—chosen based on their quality, nutrition, and sustainability. The fish are thawed with great care to preserve their nutrients as they progress from freezer to beak. Some patients have more discerning tastes, however, and must be stimulated to eat with live prey. Two common merganser youngsters have been eating dozens of live goldfish each day.


About two days worth of goldfish for the merganser chicks.

These mergansers are particularly challenging to raise with their high risk of habituation, huge appetite for live fish, and need for aquatic housing. But IBR is more than up to the task with strict protocols in place to ensure the birds receive minimal handling and careful food presentation. They’re one of my favorites, but I’m sure IBR staff are eager for these hungry (read: expensive) babies to be released.



The common mergansers graduated to a large pool and immediately started looking for their favorite food–live fish.

IBR raises hundreds of baby dinosaurs—whoops, I mean herons and egrets—each summer. Their needs are very different from the baby passerines I raised on the East coast. I learned a ton about them that week, but the one thing that really stood out was their… um… their stank. They stunk. Wow. I’d like to specifically recognize IBR’s ICU volunteers, because working in a room maintained at 90 degrees and reaching into even warmer incubators to pull out yesterday’s leftover fish is… well… let’s just say it’s memorable. Raising baby egrets and herons is a messy business. Some of the babies end up getting quite dirty after stumbling into their food dishes or ending up on the wrong end of their cagemates’ elimination. These birds must be washed prior to release to ensure their feathers are adequately waterproof. Isabel Luevano, the center manager, enlisted my help to wash five of these dirty little dinosaurs (snowy and cattle egrets). It’s been about a year since I last washed a bird so it was a welcome refresher for me and it was helpful to see SFBOWCEC’s wash room in action.


I also had the privilege of watching Dr. Becky Duerr perform several surgeries and re-checks. Dr. Duerr has contributed a wealth of information and innovation to the wildlife rehab community. I watched her repair the humerus fracture of a young black-crowned night heron late one evening as Isabel carefully monitored the bird under anesthesia. Long, grueling days are the norm for rehabbers during baby season, but I only heard one person complain about sore feet and exhaustion all week (okay—it was me. I was out of practice!).

I want to thank all of the IBR staff and volunteers for letting me follow them around and ask questions. I learned so much from you and truly enjoyed getting to know you!

— Sam





Connecting Our Diverse Network

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Did you know that the OWCN now has 44 Member Organizations? Did you also know that we have greater than 1,300 registered responders? If you answered “Yes”, great job! As a newer member of our team I find the best way to get to know the amazing people that make up the OWCN is to actually meet people and have a chance to connect one on one, or in a small group. So, now ask yourself “how many of those 1,300 responders have you met”?  I can honestly say that over the last year I have probably met about 300 of our 1,300 responders. That being said, one of our goals for the next year is to try and better connect YOU, our responders, with us and each other. Two of the ways to make sure we stay connected is through engagement events and our upcoming Oilapalooza Conference.

LGB Engagement

Attendees of the OWCN Engagement Event at the Aquarium of the Pacific

We recently co-hosted an engagement event with the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach. Greater than 20 individuals from 6 Member Organizations in the LA/Long Beach area attended. We had time to network over refreshments, a short presentation, and a great Q & A session. Some of us even had an opportunity to take a quick peak at some of the exhibit animals, including the Magellanic penguins and the American avocet chicks. The OWCN is very grateful to our network partners, such as the Aquarium of the Pacific, for their support in hosting engagement events. We hope to offer similar events throughout the state over the next year or so.

oilapalooza is coming

Oilapalooza is coming up fast! The OWCN Management Team is working hard to plan two fun filled days of lectures, workshops, and networking opportunities.  Similar to 2017, we will hold lectures on October 16th, followed by a networking event at a unique location. October 17th will consist of 1/2 day labs, allowing participants to take advantage of two different opportunities. Currently, we are in the process of working on pre-registration through the Member Organization Primary Contacts. But don’t worry, we will open up the remaining spaces for first-come-first-serve registration at the end of this month, along with additional information regarding the room block and conference specifics. In the meantime, we look forward to seeing you in Arcata, at an upcoming training, engagement, or another event in the near future.

Have a fantastic summer!



Danene Birtell – Readiness Coordinator, OWCN Management Team



This Simple 5-Minute Task Could Change Your Life…So Do It TODAY!

Take a peek at this video to learn what simple 5-minute task you can do today that could change your life as well as the lives of the animals you work with!



The OWCN Mentored Research Program is open to all of our Member Organizations!

Filling out the 5-minute Project Concept Form and submitting it by July 5th to Lorraine Barbosa at will afford you the opportunity to be paired with an OWCN mentor to create and submit a Full Project Proposal in time for consideration for this year’s funding. But don’t worry! After July 5th, your Project Concept Form is not late, it just gives you and your mentor even more time to prepare a Full Project Proposal in time for next year’s funding!

For more information, visit the OWCN Mentored Research Program Webpage.


Observing the JIC: Communications in an Oil Spill Exercise

I recently attended the three-day BP Shipping/Alaska Tanker Worst Case Discharge Exercise in San Mateo. As a member of OWCN’s marketing team, I went to observe the communications process of the exercise, which operates out of the Joint Information Center, or JIC. The goals of the JIC are to establish effective communication with the public and media within the first few hours of responding to a spill and to create a plan for the next 24-48 hours.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect as I’d never participated in a large-scale spill or spill exercise. As I approached the exercise floor, humming with activity, I started to realize the scope of an actual spill and the dynamic coordination required to address it. A couple hundred participants navigated the room toward their respective sections—from command staff and planning to logistics and operations—greeting one another along the way.


Members of the Operations section

Some attendees were in full uniform, like members of the Coast Guard and the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office. Nearly everyone wore brightly colored vests, which identified the various exercise roles. JIC participants, part of the command staff, wore white vests. My OWCN colleagues, Jennie and Lorraine, wore orange vests as part of the Wildlife Operations team.


Two of my OWCN colleagues, Jennie and Lorraine, representing Wildlife Operations in the Operations section of the exercise.

By the time the ICS 201 Incident Briefing started, it was standing room only. We were briefed on the exercise scenario by the Incident Commander and encouraged to collaborate across teams, share knowledge and ask questions. Then it was off to exercise play!

Inside the JIC, the lead Public Information Office (PIO) and JIC manager were identified and working groups were quickly set up for media, community relations, info gathering, written products and social media. Deliverables included a press release that announced the formation of the Unified Command, a VIP site visit and a press conference set for late afternoon. A plan was made to hold hourly check-ins and then everyone dove into their assigned duties.


Inside the JIC: California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s OSPR PIO Eric Laughlin takes a media call.

Within minutes, phones in the JIC starting ringing—simulated press calls from the exercise controllers—which the media team promptly jumped on. The social media team showed me a very cool online tool that the exercise controllers were also using to simulate posts about the spill from the public. The JIC manager relayed an approved social media handle and website name for the spill, and media were directed to them for updates. Both the media team and social media team shared high priority questions and rumors with the JIC manager and the written products team to help build out talking points, press releases and fact sheets for the exercise’s spill website.

spill exercise website

The exercise website included mock press releases, fact sheets, photos, maps and contact information.

In the afternoon, the JIC held a mock press conference. In preparation, the Incident Commander and federal, state and local agency representatives were selected and prepped with talking points. Copies of the press releases and fact sheets were on hand for the “reporters” as they checked in. A camera operator stood at the ready, and then the the lead PIO started the press conference. He provided a brief summary of the incident and then each representative provided a short statement. It was exciting and a little nerve-wracking to watch the representatives respond to some tough questions—I had to remind myself that this was not an actual press conference. The importance of the prep work became immediately evident.


The lead PIO responding to “reporters” at the exercise’s mock press conference

Watching the JIC in action was like observing a master class in crisis communications. It was a great reminder that information in an unfolding incident is constantly evolving, which creates opportunities for error and confusion (and at worst, panic). That’s why it is so critical that the JIC work closely with Unified Command and the section leads to ensure a single, verified source of communication with the public. A coordinated response effort and a controlled flow of communication help ensure accurate communications, and in turn the safety of the public, responders and crew involved in an oil spill.


The OWCN comms team, Kristin and Eunah, in the JIC.