Pacific Collaboration or No Walls on This Border


Hello from beautiful British Columbia! Scott and I are attending Clean Pacific this week in Vancouver, BC. The Clean Pacific conference is an annual meeting of the response community of the Western US and Canada. There are a number of regional response conferences like this around the US and Canada each year.

IMG_7459Clean Pacific Beaver

For the OWCN, this meeting brings the opportunity to network with responders up and down the Pacific coast as well as Hawaii. Why is that important you ask? Aren’t we, the California network with our 40+ Member Organizations and 7+ permanent facilities, the model for wildlife response that everyone else aspires to? While it may or may not be true that everyone wants to be the OWCN, that is not the point. If we are something to aspire to a huge reason is that we are always trying to improve and always trying to learn from other people’s experience and perspective as well as our own.

Presentations, workshops, exhibits and networking at an event like Clean Pacific provides opportunities to step outside of our narrow world view as wildlife responders, veterinarians, and rehabilitators and look at the bigger picture challenges of spill response. This allows us to bring back a fresh approach to wildlife response problems. Equipment is a perfect example. The oil spill response industry is very good at equipment. Boom, skimmers, boats, drones, dispersant jet packs – boys and their toys, as some say. But some of these things can repurposed for wildlife response with a little creative thinking. One person’s wastewater tank is another person’s aquatic bird conditioning pool with a little netting spread on top.

The other big benefit gained by being here is the opportunity spread the word about wildlife response and what we believe it takes to do an effective job. This is key in building relationships that will facilitate collaboration if a Deepwater Horizon/Exxon Valdez/Oregon Standard/Union Oil Santa Barbara Channel spill happens on “our” side of the Pacific.  That is why Mike contributes his time to the Clean Pacific Steering Committee, why Scott is chairing the Wildlife Session and why I am speaking about the OWCN system for statewide wildlife response. This talk emphasized how the OWCN is built on our Member Organizations throughout the state, our facilities and equipment caches that are strategically placed, and our recent mobile equipment additions which allow us to provide primary care in remote inland locations when that provides “best achievable care”.

So, this week, Scott and I will be listening, looking, asking questions, and networking with colleagues from industry and governmental trustees and NGO’s aimed at improving wildlife response in California but also in Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and Hawaii. If you ever get the chance to attend one of these “Clean” conferences, I think you might find it very interesting.



Diversify your Summer Fun!


Our beautiful state of California has a bounty of diverse natural wonders, and this summer you can enjoy just some of these by visiting one of our OWCN Member Organizations.  Each Member Organization is unique, but all share unbridled passion for education and protection of our environment, especially our native wildlife.  Check out a collection of opportunities below:

  • Bird Ally X:
    WILD Camp
    Bird Ally X has partnered with Juncos & Junipers (preschool) to offer a WILD Camp for preschool age kids up to 8 years old.  It’s their second year doing it, so check out the flier here –  (Wild camp flier 2019).


  • Golden Gate Audubon Society:
    Osprey Cam
    This site not only has 2 HiDef cameras and is full of Osprey information, but also features a live chat forum, a community science component that allows observers to contribute to real time data collection on fish species and manmade items that the birds are bringing to their nest, and downloadable STEM lessons for educators teaching grades 6 through 12. Click here to view


  • Point Blue Conservation Science:
    Point Blue Conservation Science’s Palomarin Field Station, located in Point Reyes National Seashore, is open to both drop-in visitors and to scheduled groups and classes. Visitors can join their biologists on a hike to check their mist nets for songbirds, watch live bird-banding demonstrations as part of their long-term studies of birds and their habitats, and check out their visitor center. Opportunities are year-round, and in summer banding demonstrations are available six mornings per week (Tuesday through Sunday); visit their website for details.



  • Santa Barbara Zoo:Condor Cam
    Get up close and personal with an endangered California condor chick on this live-streaming nest cam direct from the remote mountains near Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge in Ventura County, California. Researchers have named this the “Pole Canyon nest” after its location in the backcountry. The Santa Barbara Zoo is partners with the US Fish & Wildlife Service and Cornell Lab of Ornithology in bringing this Condor Cam to the public.
    Condor Cam is Live, click here to viewFiesta Kicks Off at Digs!
    Fiesta week starts at the Santa Barbara Zoo at Digs! held on Thursday, August 1 from 5 to 10 p.m. One ticket price includes the infamous “DIGS” margaritas, cold beer, tasty regional wines, and delicious food from local restaurants. A fundraiser for the Santa Barbara Zoo and Old Spanish Days. For ages 21+ only, click here for more info.

    Santa Barbara Zoo Camps
    Santa Barbara Zoo’s camps offer children ages 3–12 the opportunity to explore animals and science. Camps will be offered for 10 weeks starting June 10th. There will be traditional zoo camp as well as specialty camps such as Junior Zoo Veterinarian, Junior Zookeeper, Backyard Biologist, STEM Explorers. Check the zoo website for details.


  • The Bird Rescue Center:
    Open Houses Monthly
    BRC holds a free monthly Open House the first Saturday of every month, rain or shine (barring major holidays— if in doubt, give them a call at 707 523-2473). Come on by and meet a few of their resident Raptor Ambassadors. Their intrepid volunteer raptor handlers will be more than happy to introduce you! It’s a wonderful opportunity to see these beautiful wild birds up close — and an unforgettable experience! You may even find yourself wondering how you could learn to handle these amazing birds. Click here for more info.

    Photography of the birds is permitted while maintaining a safe distance and a quiet manner (no waving or sudden noise, please). Note: No photography of the birds while in their mews (aviaries) is allowed.


  • The Marine Mammal Center:
    Summer Visiting Options
    From June 8 to August 25, The Marine Mammal Center will have 45-minute guided tours every day, 3 times a day (11 am, 1 pm and 3 pm)!  They also have a behind-the-scenes Missiles to Medicine experience that will be at 12 pm and 2 pm typically 5 days a week!  If you haven’t had a chance to visit the Center and explore the World’s largest marine mammal hospital, then you should stop by.  They also have numerous Marine Science Sundays this summer, with free presentations and activities on the 2nd and 4th Sunday of each month.


  • WildCare:
    Wildlife Camp
    Does your inquisitive child love animals? Wildlife Camp is a fun way to stimulate learning about wild animals and instill a life-long respect for nature. Weekly camp programs are designed to captivate, engage and challenge young people, building environmental knowledge and values. Click here for details.We hope you are able to take advantage of some of the

We hope you get the chance to take advantage of these awesome opportunities and interface with our amazing Member Organizations.

The OWCN Management Team

Goleta Response

On May 28th, an estimated 80-125 gallons of crude oil were released into the Pacific Ocean at the 421 Pier on Haskell’s Beach in Goleta, California. Scientists from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Office of Spill Prevention and Response (CDFW -OSPR) were on scene quickly to assess the situation, and on May 29ththe OWCN was activated to assist with animal recovery. With several of our staff assisting at a different oil spill, it was up to Sam and me, the two newest members of the team, to help out. Luckily for us our comrades were only a phone call away, and our emergency response vehicle (the “Sprinter”) was en route to Davis after being in the shop. We met the Sprinter upon its arrival, and with the help of Curt and Danene we had it loaded with recovery and care equipment within the hour. With the goal of meeting at the oil spill Command Post in Goleta Thursday morning as early as we could safely make it, Sam and I turned on some good tunes, waved goodbye to Curt and Danene, and hit the road.  We stopped in Salinas to catch some sleep and made it to the Command Post by 9am ready to help out.


We got deployed!

We met with Laird Henkel, the CDFW-OSPR Wildlife Branch Director (WBD) and had a quick safety briefing. Within a few minutes of arriving, we were notified of an oiled gull spotted at Coal Oil Point, which was just a couple miles east of Pier 421. Since the other wildlife recovery team, a two-woman crew from International Bird Rescue (IBR), was already out on another beach, Sam and I hopped in the Sprinter and headed for Coal Oil Point. After donning our Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), learning a few expert tips from Mike Harris from CDFW-OSPR, and obtaining some gull bait, Sam had the gull netted in no time! Once in hand, Mike offered to transport it to the Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network (SBWCN), where we were temporarily housing all wildlife related to the incident before transporting them to our Primaray Care facility in San Pedro (the Los Angeles Oiled Bird Care and Education Center). Once Mike left with the gull, Sam and I spent some time surveying the beach with binoculars before heading back to the Command Post to catch up with our team, eat lunch, and plan our next moves. After lunch, Sam and I walked west from Coal Oil Point to Pier 421. The section of beach just west of Coal Oil Point is a nesting ground for snowy plovers, and we were lucky enough to see some snowy plover chicks sprinting across the sand as we walked by. For me, this was one of the highlights of the entire response. They’re so stinking cute!


Testing out our PPE

The next day, the beaches were once again teeming with activity. The Environmental Scientists, Incident Commanders, and Patriot work crew were busy combing the sand for oil and wildlife. Sam and I spent most of the day conducting operations out of the Sprinter as a hot shot crew, ready to respond to calls of oiled wildlife. The IBR team walked from Coal Oil Point, which was the most eastern boundary of the spill zone, to just west of Pier 421, the same stretch of beach Sam and I had walked the day before. By midday there was talk of a demobilization plan for one of our recovery teams as we weren’t seeing a lot of oiled wildlife. It was decided that the IBR team would head home, taking with them the wildlife we had recovered so far that day.


Patriot crew cleaning up the beaches. Photo Credit: OSPR

The following day, Saturday June 1, just as we thought things were wrapping up, we were notified that there was a report of a stranded sea lion pup just west of the Santa Barbara Shores drop down point. This was something neither Sam nor I had ever dealt with before. With approval from Incident Command, we called in reinforcements from the Channel Islands Marine & Wildlife Institute (CIMWI) to help us out! Luckily, it was established by the Wildlife Branch that the little guy was not affected due to the spill and CIMWI was able to rescue him thanks to Mark Banda’s excellent skill set. It was midafternoon by the time we made it back for lunch, sea lion pup in hand. The incident command staff had just wrapped up their final walk through of the beach and it was concluded that the wildlife recovery efforts were completed. Sam and I could begin demobilizing. We arranged to have a local hot shot crew from the SBWCN on standby just in case there were any more reports of oiled wildlife, and then packed up the Sprinter and headed out. It was already evening by the time we left, so we decided to stay in Santa Barbara for the night just in case anything came up. And of course, we had to indulge in a brownie sundae to celebrate the conclusion of our first spill!

Overall, it was a really great experience for my first spill response. The people I got to work with were incredible, the wildlife recovery efforts went smoothly, no one was injured, and the beaches looked phenomenal when all was said and done! I have to say, I am incredibly grateful to be a part of this team, and so thankful for having amazing coworkers who were gracious enough to answer the million and one questions I had throughout the response.



Oil seeps are not a spill but they have the same effect

Every year in California hundreds of animals are impacted by oil that are not part of any official spill response.  These animals are oiled by petroleum that floats up from the many oil seeps off the coast of central California. According to NOAA “An oil seep is a natural leakage of crude oil and gas that migrates through the sea floor and ocean depths”. Most of the seeps occur in areas where there are large deposits of oil, and as you might imagine oil and gas extraction activities.


Illustration by Jack Cook, Woods Hole Oceanographic InstitutionEnter a caption

When it makes it way to the surface it can come into contact with wildlife and have the same impacts as any oil spill that occurred because of human petroleum use. The fact that this impact comes from a natural cause means little to the animal, the public or wildlife rehabilitation centers. When these animals are found they arrive in wildlife rehabilitation centers along the California coast from San Mateo County all the way south to Orange County.

In 2003 the Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN) and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) put in place a budget to support treatment and learn from animals that are oiled when no spill is recognized. The goal is not only to provide financial support to wildlife rehabilitation organizations for a portion of the costs of caring for these individuals, but also to provide a data collection system to alert us to possible unreported spills. We are able to collect samples that might help identify the source of the oiling and differentiate between seeps and oil spills, increase training and experience among likely responders, and provide opportunities to develop or test new methods of oiled animal care. We call these Individual Oiled Animals and the 2019 season seen a significant uptick in their occurrence.



Enter a caption

As we approach the end of May, OWCN Member Organizations have reported receiving more than 400 Individual oiled animals since January 1. They have been found from San Mateo County in the north to Orange County in the south. In comparison 2016-2018 averaged 168 Individual Oiled Animals over the same period.  We don’t really know why there are more animals some years than others. It could have to do with the number of animals in an area or it could have to do with the amount of oil that seeps. Weather also can have an impact with the seeps drifting with wind and currents for more than 100 miles up or down the coast.

My point is that many of OWCN’s member organizations work together to collect, transport, stabilize and rehabilitate these animals. We are happy to be able to support them and glad high-quality care can be provided to these animals and important information can be documented. Thank you to all the Member Organizations like International Bird Rescue, Pacific Wildlife Care, Wetlands and Wildlife, Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network, Monterey SPCA, Native Animal Rescue, California Wildlife Center as well as to the municipal agencies and private animal hospitals who all work so well to make this an effective network to provide oiled animal care even when there is not a spill.

– Curt

Research Drives Advancement

Here at the Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN), we often refer to our foundational four R’s: Readiness, Reaching Out, Research and Response. Each R represents an essential component of our program, and while all of them deserve our daily attention, Research was a recent focus as we hosted our annual Scientific Advisory Committee meeting this past March. quote-no-research-without-action-no-action-without-research-kurt-lewin-136-14-90

The Scientific Advisory Committee includes scientifically qualified individuals from academia, the oil industry, rehabilitation organizations and other research institutions. The Committee reviews completed research and technology development proposals in advance, and then gathers annually to evaluate their scientific merit and quality.  To date, the committee has awarded over $4 million of grant funds to more than 175 scientifically meritorious studies.

Specifically this past spring, the following proposals were approved for funding:

  • Photoenhanced toxicity of oil to various immune parameters in three avian species
  • Pixels or Nucleotides? Comparing camera and genetic techniques to assess demographics of San Francisco Bay Area river otters
  • Exploration of novel biomarkers for repeated domoic acid exposure and associated chronic health impacts in at-risk southern sea otters (Enhydra lutris nereis)
  • Post-oiling rehabilitation outcomes and long-term survival in Southern African seabirds
  • 1 additional proposal is pending approval based on recommended amendment

And a big Thank You to our Scientific Advisory Committee for their herculean efforts!

And while on the topic of fantastic research, check out these recent publications:

And just for fun but still very interesting:



Strategic Surgeries for Saving Lives

During the past two weeks, I had the great pleasure of spending some time at our nearest Member Organization, International Bird Rescue, located at the San Francisco Bay Oiled Wildlife Care and Education Center (SFBOWCEC). You may remember I spent some time there back in October refreshing my animal handling skills and getting to know some of the staff and volunteers. This time, I spent my time shadowing their veterinarian, Dr. Rebecca (Becky) Duerr. As someone who is constantly learning, it is always of great value to see what fellow veterinarians do with their patients in order to glean any golden bits of knowledge.

Some cases that were particularly intriguing to me were a Black-Crowned Night-Heron (BCNH) with a scalping injury and a Common Murre (COMU) with a patagial wound. The BCNH was a fledgling bird that had a substantial portion of the skin on its head adhered to its skull. To fix this, Becky removed the dead tissue, undermined the live tissue, and advanced the skin from its neck up and over the top of its head (called an advancement flap). At its most recent recheck, the skin and sutures were still intact and the bird was doing well, with some areas of skin already healing after only seven days.

The COMU was an adult bird that had a patagial wound likely caused by fishing line entanglement, a problem for which many birds are euthanized. To preserve the bird’s exposed patagial tendon, Becky performed a procedure I hadn’t seen in a bird before- a skin graft. She harvested skin from the bird’s hip area and relocated the skin to its patagium. Although it is too early yet to tell how well the graft will take in this bird, Becky has grafted many a lucky bird whose life was spared by this procedure.

During major oil spills with large numbers of birds, we typically treat animals from a herd health perspective, but it’s always great to have knowledge of procedures such as these that we can employ when we have the time and resources available to treat our patients on a more individualized basis.

– Lorraine



Black-Crowned Night-Heron with a severe scalp injury (under anesthesia, just prior to surgery)


Same Black-Crowned Night-Heron a week after receiving surgery with an advancement flap to treat its severe scalp wounds



Common Murre with a patagial wound (under anesthesia, just prior to surgery)


Same Common Murre following surgery, now with a skin graft covering its patagial wound

Update on Refugio oil spill


Photo of clean up during Refugio oil spill: USFWS

Last month Judge James Herman from the Santa Barbara Superior Court ordered Plains All American Pipeline to pay $3.3 million in fines for “knowingly” discharging ~142,000 gallons crude oil into the ocean on May 19, 2015. The evidence presented during the trial and Plain’s history of 73 previous spills associated with corroded pipelines convinced the jury that the company knew that the pipeline was aging and should have known that it was likely to have corrosion damage. Therefore Plains was responsible for not keeping closer tabs on its condition.

For all of us who responded to help rescue the 100’s of wild animals impacted by this spill, this spill (and the subsequent legal activity) underscored our need to be vigilant and ready throughout California to respond immediately to future disasters.


For more information, please click on the link in the text above or any of the links below:

LA Times article

The Tribune article