Deja Vous all over again? Non merci


It was with great relief when I read on Monday that the cargo ship Modern Express was back under tow and headed away from land and imminent danger. The 538-foot car carrier with 300 tonnes of fuel and listing at 45 degrees as it drifted ever closer to the southern coast of France last weekend after it’s crew had been evacuated.iu

I learned of the Modern Express’s plight last week shortly after I read about Spain’s Supreme Court sentencing of the captain of the oil tanker Prestige to two years in prison for “recklessness” that resulting in catastrophic environmental damage” and the new threat could not help but bring back memories of my experience capturing and caring for oiled birds in Spain and later France in the days and weeks and following the disaster.

In November 2002, I was on the staff of International Bird Rescue (then IBRRC) and part of the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s Oiled Wildlife Team that worked under representatives of Xunta de Galicia managing the oiled bird center on a hill overlooking the city of Pontevedre. The wildlife response at that center, as well as other centers to the north as far as France and south into Portugal was truly an international effort. It included wildlife responders from organizations around Europe and around the world. Unsurprisingly one of those was my now boss, Dr. Mike Ziccardi, the Director of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network. At the time I was amazed at the rugged beauty of the coast of Galicia and the fishing villages all along it and at the devastation that the spill caused to animals and people.


Prestige oil spill 2002 –

This week I could too easily imagine it all over again if the Modern Express hit the rocks and wondered how a wildlife response would place out if that nightmare should occur.

Regular readers of our blog will remember Mike’s December post about the international group the OWCN is part of which is currently working to develop a system the Global Oiled Wildlife Response System (GOWRS) to ensure capacity to rapidly respond to oiled wildlife anywhere in the world. There is still considerable work to be done to accomplish that goal but just the fact that those groups are working on a plan means that if once again the “unthinkable” happens and another Prestige or Erika or Treasure or Deepwater Horizon occurs, we can respond at least a little bit quicker or a little bit better. As you all know when it comes to oiled wildlife, especially in early February in the northern Atlantic, every minute and every trained person counts. Hopefully by the time the next big spill occurs, a global oiled wildlife system, whatever it looks like, will be operational and ready to roll. I am sure if Mike and OWCN have anything to say about it, it will.

  • Curt

What is a Furnado?

If you google ‘Furnado’, you might find yourself wandering off topic, gazing at fantastic photos of Furna Do Enxofre (a volcanic cave located on Portugal’s Azores Islands).  But a Furnado in our context is actually a term I first heard via our colleagues at The Marine Mammal Center (TMMC), referring to the tornado of fur seals in distress that have been hitting our California coastline as of late.


Northern fur seal pup @ TMMC

Upon hearing that TMMC had rescued more than 30 Guadalupe fur seals by the middle of 2015, and then rescued over 100 Northern fur seals before year end, I recognized that these numbers were truly unprecedented.  In my former staff role at TMMC, I would have been focused on the task of recruiting and training additional volunteers to help care for this onslaught of feisty pinnipeds.  But in my new staff role with the OWCN, two very different thoughts came to mind:

  1. With the current unusual oceanic conditions out there, and the fur seal’s dependence upon their dense fur coat for proper thermoregulation, our network better be prepared for the possibility of responding to these less common pinnipeds should an oil spill occur (Good News: Thanks to Refugio, our Network is more prepared today than we were this time last year to launch a large scale oiled marine mammal response!)
  2. While every one of our 35 Member Organizations is essential to the strength and depth of knowledge comprising our Network, we should send a shout out of thanks to our marine mammal focused Member Organizations, as they had a demanding year in 2015, and may need some words of encouragement going into what looks to be a busy 2016.

So in reference to that second thought above, let me express my attitude of gratitude toward our fantastic marine mammal responders out there, and remind you all that your willingness to go above and beyond does not go unnoticed.  And to prove that point, below are links to just a few articles discussing the very topic of fur seal overload or simply the deluge of pinnipeds over the last year, with each of them specifically highlighting our marine mammal centric Member Organizations which include:

Additional articles on the topic:

Keep up the good work!


Save the Date: HAZWOPER Trainings

WR team in PPE Refugio 2015 Gayle Uyehara

Wildlife Recovery Team prepares to enter the Hot Zone at the Refugio Oil Spill (photo courtesy of Gayle Uyehara)

With the New Year comes resolutions, my first OWCN blog, and the most exciting of all – in person 24 hour Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) Training dates!  We wanted to share these dates as early as possible, so those of you out there needing to complete this training can mark your calendars.  We will be creating online activities in our responder database shortly, so that those interested can sign up.  But please feel free to spread the word throughout the Network.

As of today, we have the following 2016 dates set (all classes are 3 days in length, from 8am to 5pm each day):

  • February 23rd – 25th in Redding (exact location TBD)
  • April 19th – 21st in Bakersfield (exact location TBD)
  • May 24th – 26th in San Diego (SeaWorld)
  • August 16th – 18th in Sausalito (The Marine Mammal Center)

As a reminder, if you wish to respond within the hot zone of an oil spill, you must have proof of current 24 hour HAZWOPER certification. Once this initial class is completed, you will be required to annually refresh your certification to maintain its active status, which can be accomplished via our OWCN online 8hr HAZWOPER Refresher course.

If you have any questions at all, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Cheers to a healthy, happy, HAZWOPER filled 2016!


Refugio pelicans in Baja


Happy 2016! The satellite-tagged pelicans from the Refugio spill have largely moved down to Baja. Seven of the spill birds are there, ranging from the Pacific coast to throughout the Gulf of California. We don’t know what they’re doing there — maybe thinking about breeding? — but due to the El Niño, it is not expected to be a good year for pelican breeding, so we will try not to be too disappointed if they don’t end up in breeding colonies.

Two control pelicans are hanging out in San Diego. The remainder of the controls are in the greater Los Angeles area; from Ventura to just south of Newport Beach. A couple of spill birds are on the central coast; one in Morro Bay and one in Santa Barbara.

Sadly, we haven’t heard from one control bird and one spill bird for a month or so. The latter last transmitted from the open water, and was moving suspiciously like the prevailing currents, so we presume that that bird died. The other one’s battery was low, so we’re hopeful he’ll start transmitting again once his battery charges.

We’re excited about following our birds in the New Year. Although we don’t have a perfect survival rate, most of our birds are alive and moving around like pelicans should. A great start to the new year! Speaking of which, we wish everyone — people and pelicans alike — a happy and healthy 2016!


Please keep reporting those blue and green-banded birds:

The rehabilitated pelicans from the spill are banded with metal federal bands as well as large green bands. If you happen to see a green-banded pelican, PLEASE let us know!! Report them here.

If you happen to see a blue-banded pelican, report it here.

2015: A Year to Remember

The OWCN and Wildlife Health Center made the top 10 stories for UC Davis for 2015. To learn more about these and other conservation related articles, check out these stories:

Top 10 stories from UC Davis in 2015
By Strategic Communications staff

What do foals, drought, hummingbirds and plastic all have in common? All are subjects of UC Davis’ top stories from 2015. Our staff looked at clicks and shares and had some lively debates to bring you a collection of the stories that had the biggest impact on campus and across the world throughout the year.

Wildlife experience high price of oil
Story by Kat Kerlin, video and photos by Joe Proudman

Members of the UC Davis Oiled Wildlife Care Network were in Alaska, attending a conference about the effects of oil on wildlife, when the real thing came pouring out of a ruptured pipeline in Santa Barbara County on May 19, 2015. As up to 100,000 gallons of thick, crude oil emptied along a 10-mile stretch of coast, OWCN Director Mike Ziccardi, who has experienced more than 50 spills in California and abroad, booked a red-eye flight from Anchorage to Santa Barbara. Once there, he assumed his post at the incident command center to help coordinate the wildlife response effort — a role that includes organizing the recovery, field stabilization, transport, rehabilitation and release of affected wildlife.

California network ready to respond: Typically, the number of birds far outweighs the number of marine mammals brought into the wildlife care facilities. In this spill, the ratio is much less distinct. “California is the best region in the world for oiled wildlife response,” Ziccardi said. “Through the UC Davis Oiled Wildlife Care Network, we have over 35 organizations we work with regularly. We train, do drills and exercises; we’ve built 12 facilities throughout the state for oiled wildlife. We have a system in place that is ready to hit the road should a spill like this occur anywhere in the state.”

That system burst into action in late May. Working with federal and state agencies, wildlife organizations and trained volunteers, recovery teams were deployed from the southern edge of San Luis Obispo County to Malibu, collecting, stabilizing and transporting wildlife.

Birds continue to be taken to the Los Angeles Oiled Bird Care and Education Center in San Pedro, while marine mammals are transported to a facility at SeaWorld San Diego. They are cleaned and rehabilitated at those facilities, with the hope of returning them to the wild after recovery. The information collected about each bird and mammal helps inform research on wildlife care for future spills, and helps scientists better understand the impact of this spill.


Photo: Two people in robes and masks cleaning a oil-covered pelican Photo: two people in robes and masks cleaning a oil-covered pelican. Photo by Joe Proudman

With the help of an assistant, Christine Fiorello, right, an Oiled Wild Life Care Network response veterinarian, cleans an oiled brown pelican at the Los Angeles Oiled Bird Care and Education Center in San Pedro.

More marine mammals than expected:

While the full extent of damage to wildlife remains unknown, this spill appears to be unique, according to marine biologist Kyra Mills-Parker, deputy director of field operations for the UC Davis OWCN. She said that typically, the number of birds far outweighs the number of marine mammals brought into the wildlife care facilities. In this spill, the ratio is much less distinct.

By June, the number of dead animals found during wildlife recovery efforts spiked. As of the evening of June 1, oiled wildlife responders had captured 220 animals, including both the dead and alive. That number includes 57 oiled birds, mostly brown pelicans, that were rescued and 80 birds collected dead. Thirty-eight marine mammals have been rescued — 32 California sea lions and six northern elephant seals — and 45 mammals were found dead, including nine dolphins and 36 California sea lions. Of the live captured animals, seven sea lions and eight birds died in care. Of those collected, 80 animals are still alive, and 140 are dead.

Keep calm, care for wildlife: The OWCN is managed by the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine’s Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center on behalf of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response. The network of more than 35 partner organizations is funded from a portion of a fee levied on the oil industry. OWCN partners include more than 2,000 trained people the network can tap to mobilize at a moment’s notice for emergencies like the oil spill in Santa Barbara County.

“Seeing animals injured or affected by oil spills is troubling,” Ziccardi said. “But you have to keep calm. By going out there, developing systems and the means to collect animals quickly, bring them into our centers and provide them the best care possible, it’s doing wonderful things for the animals. Especially animals that are affected due to our need for oil.”

Links to related video and original article:

Links to other wildlife conservation articles from 2015:

Hummingbird health: Appreciating the little things

For the past six years, Manfred Kusch, a UC Davis senior lecturer emeritus of French and comparative literature, has been opening his garden to the UC Davis Hummingbird Health and Conservation Program. The group, including the University of Wyoming, is the only collaborative program in the nation focused on hummingbird health and genetics.

Plastic for dinner: A quarter of fish sold at markets contain human-made debris

Roughly a quarter of the fish sampled from fish markets in California and Indonesia contained human-made debris — plastic or fibrous material — in their guts, according to a study from UC Davis and Hasanuddin University in Indonesia. The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, is one of the first to directly link plastic and human-made debris to the fish on consumers’ dinner plates.

Rat poison at marijuana farms is killing increased numbers of rare forest mammals

The situation is growing worse for fishers being poisoned by rodenticides on illegal marijuana grow sites in California, according to a study by a team of researchers led by UC Davis and the Integral Ecology Research Center, based in Blue Lake. Fishers are midsized weasels.

Best wishes for a happy and healthy 2016 for all beings everywhere!


Outreach Fun

The OWCN team had the opportunity recently to host two fifth grade classes at our facility in Fairfield.  Our outreach consisted of a presentation, tour of the facility, and lots of fun activities for the kids.  This group was exceptionally large, so most of the OWCN team was involved, and we even had a chance to steal Jordan Stout from NOAA to do a great demonstration on how oil slicks move.  There was tons of hands on fun, and everyone had a great time.  Enjoy the slideshow!


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Gratefulness Comes in Many Colors – Big Lagoon Oil Spill

Greetings from Arcata!

IMG_0090[1]As many of you know, several of us from the OWCN management team arrived here late yesterday to help ensure that we were doing everything possible to find, capture, and treat potentially impacted wildlife resulting from the truck that overturned late Saturday night on Highway 101. The truck that overturned was carrying diesel, which spilled into the nearby Big Lagoon, just north of Arcata. With thousands of waterfowl that consider Big Lagoon a good “hangout”, the fear was that many of these birds would become oiled.

They say that to be a truly happy person, you should be grateful for and recognize the little (and big) things in your life that happen every day. Not sure who “they” are, but I am told they are very wise people who know what they are talking about.  And in the spirit of the holidays, when most people are practicing, or at least thinking about being grateful, I want to share with you some things that I am grateful for these past couple of days:

  1. I am grateful that there are great OSPR folks up here, that reacted quickly and truly care for the amazing wildlife in this area.
  2. I am grateful that after a day and a half of field operations we have yet to see or capture confirmed oiled animals.
  3. I am grateful that this happened in the winter, right before the lagoon breached, which I am told happens each year with the winter rains.  If this spill had happened in the summer, a lot of the spilled diesel would have stayed in the lagoon, and more animals would have likely been oiled.
  4. I am grateful that today was the only sunny day they have had in this area in like 10 years. The forecast is for rain tomorrow (seriously – look it up if you don’t believe me).
  5. I am grateful that the gas stations around here are wide enough and not so crowded that I can drive the Sprinter and the boat trailer up to the gas pump without crazy maneuvering in a small space (it’s not pretty – take my word for it).
  6. I am grateful that we have a wonderful team of responders up here that can be counted on to make sure the wildlife are safe – either by going out in the field (and freezing their buns off – can I say that in a blog?), or getting the facilities ready (at the Marine Wildlife Care Center at HSU, which would be the primary care center for a spill in this area, and Humboldt Wildlife Care Center/Bird AllyX.
  7. I am especially grateful for hot coffee in the morning and cold beer at night (not sure if I can say the beer thing either, but there you have it).

There are many things to be grateful for tonight.  The plan for tomorrow is to have two Wildlife Recovery teams searching the Big Lagoon area at first light.  We would be grateful for no sightings of oiled wildlife, but if there are, we are certain that they will be captured quickly and well-cared for by our amazing team of responders.

– Kyra